By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow
Looking for the new Boris Hakunin detective novel in the original
Russian? Need a copy of Tuesdays with Morrie in Korean? The
Queens Borough Public Library working to serve the boroughs
diverse immigrant community -- has these books and others in about
23 languages. It has checked out more books than any other library
in the country for the last ten years.
Through its New Americans Program, the library works to keep up
with the needs of area immigrants, no small feat in a place like
Queens. Queens is the most diverse county in the country, and the
particular makeup of the population is always in flux. 46.1% of
the boroughs population is foreign-born, and 53.5% of Queens
residents over the age of five speak a language other than English
The New Americans Program was started in 1977, and consists of
English as a Second Language classes, practical workshops conducted
in native languages, cultural arts events, and books, CDs,
videos and magazines in many languages. Since 1995, a staff librarian
has analyzed the demographics of the borough neighborhood by neighborhood,
helping each of the 62 branches better reflect its surrounding community,
For example, the Jackson Heights branch recently offered a workshop
on nutrition for children, conducted in Spanish. The branch has
plenty of copies of Gabriel Garcia Marquezs popular new autobiography,
Vivir para Contarla and Spanish versions of Danielle Steeles
bestsellers. At the Auburndale branch in Flushing, a comparable
workshop was offered in Korean, and popular books include a ten-volume
novel called Taebaeksamaek, as well as the Korean translation of
Spencer Johnsons Who Moved My Cheese?, about how to
deal with changes in the workplace.
No other library has a program quite like the New Americans Program.
The other library systems in the city, the Brooklyn Public Library
and the New York Public Librarywhich includes Manhattan, Staten
Island and the Bronxprovide materials and services for their
immigrant populations. But neither coordinates a major program that
comprehensively serves immigrants needs, nor do they analyze
their demographics as rigorously.
Spanish and Korean are two of the major languages in Queens, and
some books in those languages may be available in other library
systems. But if you are searching for, say, Misevi I Macke Naglavacke,
(Mice and Cats), a childrens book by Croatian author
Luka Paljetak youll probably have to go to the Queens Public
Librarys Broadway branch in Astoria.
This title is available in part because of Croatian immigrant Sanja
Crnkovics efforts to convince the library to order more books
in Croatian. The New Americans Program recently bought 135 Croatian
books for children, ranging from picture books to easy readers to
classics for teenagers. But when Crnkovic moved to Astoria six years
ago, "there was a small number of books in Croatian for adults,
but absolutely none for children," she said.
Crnkovic, who teaches in a Croatian school, urged her students
to borrow the Croatian books, so that librarians would see how much
they were needed. At one point, a students mother came up
to Crnkovic and asked, how was her daughter supposed to check out
Croatian books when there were none on the shelf?
Crnkovic also organized an afternoon of Croatian music and dance,
featuring a folk group called Croatian Rose at the Broadway branch,
which drew about 140 people. Cultural arts events like these, such
as Urdu poetry readings and Chinese arts and crafts events, are
frequent and popular, and help immigrants to maintain their culture
and share it with the other ethnicities of the borough.
These events often are tailored to people from a specific country,
because a single language, such as Spanish, can include a wide variety
of cultures. An independent Ecuadorian film called Dos Para el
Camino was recently screened at the Elmhurst branch, to the
delight of the substantial Ecuadorian community there.
But helping immigrants to maintain their culture is only half of
the programs aim. The other half is to help them with the
skills they need to succeed in the U.S. Crnkovics eleven-year-old
son, Viktor, says that he learned English at the library. He read
on his own, talked with librarians, and participated in every childrens
workshop, program and event offered at his branch, which, he said,
"was like a second home to me."
Often, new immigrants are surprised to learn that libraries offer
the kind of services like Viktor found at the Broadway branch of
the Queens Borough Public Library, and that there is no fee for
checking out books. "People walk out of the library with ten
books. They cant believe it, its amazing," said
Diego Serebrinsky, who emigrated from Argentina in 1997. "When
you come here, the first thing they say is, 'Go to the library.'"
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