I have been volunteering at the library since April 2016, a little before David Crystal’s inspiring speech, and know everything about it by now. I explain to all new visitors that, for only £5 a year, they can borrow our books. I have signed up many new members, and several of them have become friends, others have even become volunteers, and our family is expanding faster and faster. But many visitors never come back, many are unsure of how we can help them achieve their goals, many think it’s not a place for them because they are not fluent in dozens of foreign languages. After over a year and a half of volunteering every weekend, I have come to realise that many people misunderstand what libraries are for and what the Multilingual Library is about. So I have decided to dedicate my first blog post to getting to the bottom of this. Here is a brief guide on how to use the Multilingual Library, to show you that there’s plenty for everyone.
Let’s start by debunking some myths.
Myth # 1. Libraries are only about books. No. Libraries are about people who write books about people, for people. In libraries you meet people, you work with people, around books. If you are not that much into reading, if you struggle with reading, don’t let this put you off. There are many ways to learn, and the library is a place to learn, with many different tools. Just bear with me until the end of this blog post, and you’ll see.
Myth # 2. You do not spend time in a library. Wrong. Many members come in, browse, find an interesting book, bring it to the counter and give it to me to stamp a due date on it. Then they disappear until that date. But here is a question: did you ever notice we have a lounge and a desk in the ML? Those are not just for us volunteers (although we do our school work, bring cake on birthdays and sit down with our friends for a cup of tea there too). Our study area is for everyone. Often students come in to prepare for exams when all other libraries are packed.
Our lounge is used in many ways. First, we use that space to celebrate festivals and holidays from around the world and bring together volunteers or groups. Then, as some of our books are not lendable, especially rare ones or picture books, we are happy to let you read them in the library. You can sit down any time, you can come in with your children and read to them, teach them to read and write. You can also simply rest, and have a chat with us. (Oh, we also provide a quiet space if you want to pray!) And I am saying this, to introduce below some activities you can do in the library, to dispel myth # 3.
Myth # 3. You need to be able to read a whole book in foreign language to use the Multilingual Library. Did you ever talk to me in the library? Then you know my first question is not what languages you speak, but what languages are you interested in. Icelandic? Cool. Finnish? Challenging! Korean? We have it! Let’s imagine you wanted to pick up Portuguese from scratch. Here is how the library can help you with that.
Come to the counter and tell the volunteers which language(s) you want to learn. Somebody in our team may be a native speaker or a learner as well, we may have tips, know good websites, be available to help you practice conversation or answer your grammar questions.
Use our space to study. We do not lend dictionaries or grammar books, but we have plenty. How about you let us know your study plans and we keep a dictionary and a grammar book there for you to use when you come in. It is especially useful if you want to learn a minority language: material may not be easy to find elsewhere. For instance, where else can you find a Klingon dictionary?!
Start small. Are you not fluent yet? Start with children’s books. Read simple texts before moving on to harder ones. Ask our volunteers to help you find the best material for your level. Trust us: some of us are teachers, language teachers, translators, and we all are experienced language learners.
Network. Never heard me saying: “we’re a hub!”. I mean that. We keep lists of language teachers, language schools, and are currently working on a list of online material for you.
Like our Facebook page. Why? We advertise our events there (if you can’t drop in and have a look at our colourful posters). We host classes, we organise events, culture days, and amazing storytelling afternoons in various languages, we celebrate festivals. Everybody welcome. Free of charge.
And did you know that you can help us too? Sure! Let’s debunk the last myth.
Myth # 4. There's no point in coming to the Multilingual Library if I am not into foreign languages. Actually, our most loyal members do not read any language but English. And guess what: they never get bored! Half of our books are in English (that’s a language, a beautiful one too!), so if you’re into world literature, world history, world music, culture, geography, art, philosophy, religions, and, last but not least, cooking, the Multilingual Library is the place for you.
Do you want to learn? We are the perfect place for you! We love to have our friends and volunteers tell the stories behind their traditions. Do you want to learn more about the Chinese Moon Festival? Or about Diwali, just to name a few we have celebrated? We do not just have fun, we aim to educate people about other cultures. Do you want to help us educate others on your culture and religion? You know where to find us. We can’t wait to meet you.
Are you from Newcastle? We are keen to hear your stories too! In the spring, for example, we organised a series of talks on local history, and we often promote poetry gatherings. We care about local art, dialects, culture, we want to learn all you can teach us. (And, by the way, if you wanted to give Geordie classes, we would be more than happy to host them! We are proud to have Geordie on our language list.)
Do you speak English? If so, why don’t you:
Volunteer in the Multilingual Library. You can help our foreign volunteers and our members improve their English. Do you teach English: do you want to give classes? Do you translate or proofread? Come and talk to us; we can provide the space and the contacts.
Review a book. Do you like reading? Do you like writing? We welcome reviews of our books and any reading suggestions you may have for our members.
Get involved. The Multilingual Library is a charity, one of the projects of the Kittiwake Trust. Go and visit Borderline Books in Gateshead when you get a chance. We not only care about books and languages, we aim to make the world a better place. If you do too, there are many ways you can make your contribution to society. Network with our friends, find the perfect project for you.
If I have convinced you, if I have inspired you, I look forward to meeting you in the Multilingual Library. It’s a small place, but we accomplish big things.