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Do Languages Represent?: A Pilot Study on Linguistic Diversity and Library Staff

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This paper aims to add to conversations on access, diversity, and representation in libraries by addressing the importance of language as a factor in library service and providing some of the first data on library workers’ language skills. Much of the literature on language in libraries focuses on issues of multilingual access and collection development, and there is less emphasis on the roles of staff and language skills in providing and mediating access. As well, while US librarians are less diverse than US library workers and the wider population in terms of gender and race, it has not been shown whether the same holds true in terms of language.A pilot study of staff from three US public libraries sought to address these gaps in knowledge about staff language skills and representation and to generate further lines of inquiry. Responses were compared with US Census data to determine linguistic representation relative to the service population. The results indicated that while staff surveyed were more likely than the wider population to know another language besides English, they were not likely to use that language on the job, and those who did use a language besides English often reported low fluency. Responses also showed differences in language knowledge and use between staff with and without MLIS degrees. The results highlight the differences between language knowledge, fluency, and usage, offer implications for library service and professional values, and suggest many future directions for research.
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Henninger, E. (2018). Do languages represent?: A pilot study on linguistic diversity and library staff. PNLA Quarterly 82(3/4), 73-92. Retrieved from
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PNLA Quarterly
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Do languages represent?: A pilot study on linguistic diversity and library staff
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