Round-up for February 2013

So what’s the outcome for this topic for February 2013?

Push it until it happens.

I *want* this to happen. I want NZ to lead the way. Show the world that it is possible.

It’s up to me to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve committed to improve my own Te Reo Māori skills this year. Next up is extending my skills in te reo Māori, gaining a greater of understanding of tikanga and increasing my waiata repertoire.

And somewhere along the line, I will refresh my NZSL skills.

I need to keep planting the seed to everyone I know in the GLAM industry to incorporate bilingualism into our training curriculum.

So my goals are to –

  • Keep the discussion going.
  • Find out who to lobby, who to influence and who will make this a reality.
  • Find others to be part of this.
  • Start the groundswell.
  • Keep momentum going.

Make it happen.

What would a bilingual workplace look like?

I have worked in a bilingual organisation. I had to learn a new language (NSZL), and with it, a new cultural paradigm (Deaf culture). It opened my eyes up in different ways than living overseas in countries where English wasn’t the first language of most people.

There’s plenty of interesting resources out there about what bilingual workplaces are like, and what impact bilingualism has for employers, employees and communities.

Two pieces that caught my eye are :

  • Multnomah County Library (USA) working with immigrant communities.”Technical services and bilingual staff have worked together to build library collections in Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese. That work has resulted in a 27 percent increase in library materials in these four languages over the past three years. During that same period, usage of these materials has increased 81 percent.” Usage increase.
  • Research by Christofides & Swidinsky (2010), using Canadian census data, to show that bilingual workers earn more than unilingual workers. There are gender differences, as well as regional/geographical differences. Economic benefits.

While there is some NZ research that addresses language & culture in the workplace (but not so much on bilingualism), from the Language in the Workplace project*, there doesn’t appear to be much recent or public discussion about the issue of bilingualism in New Zealand libraries. While libraries may have documents which purport to a bilingual and/or bi-cultural workplace, anecdotal discussions indicate that this has often not been implemented or integrated into the workplace.

I really do believe that New Zealand could lead the way in commiting to making our cultural & educational institutions bilingual, which may also ensure that our workplaces are also truly bi-cultural, and subsequently more widely aware of other cultures. It is a case of making it ordinary to have more than one language used in the workplace. I remember Andrew Green from the National Library of Wales speak at the 2011 LIANZA Conference about how he mostly uses Welsh in his workplace, rather than English, and that was  ordinary for his workplace.

I believe that making it a compulsory component of future training, we increase the depth of understanding of those of us who are collecting, collating, re-purposing, showcasing and sharing our cultural heritage, as well as increasing access for our customers and encouraging wider discussions about our past, our present & our futures in the GLAM and education sectors.

So I do remain hopeful that we can implement this as part of our current LIS & GLAM & educational sector training, as I do believe that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. It is a commitment to our current customers, our future customers, ourselves and our country. By learning another language, your increase your understanding through a different cultural lens, which also shows that information & knowledge are created, collected, shared & redistributed in different ways. Awareness of this can only be a good thing.

* Note: I was a casual research assistant on this project in my pre-library life.

Let’s lead the way – Bilingual NZ Librarians

I’ve recently come back from Australia, and it seems that bilingualism for librarians might be more challenging elsewhere than in NZ.

In some cases, a country may not have an no official language. I was surprised to find that this includes Australia and the United States.

In some cases, the number of languages and dialectal variations across a country is immense. Therefore meaning that it may not be practicable to force librarians to be bilingual in at least two official languages, because there are just too many variations to make it compulsory in a curriculum. For instance, India and the Philippines might be in this category.

In some cases, a language might be officially recognised in only part of the country, such as Norway or Russia. Again this presents a challenge to make it enforceable in a curriculum.

However, for those countries, such as New Zealand and Wales, that have at least two official languages, why not make it compulsory as part of the training?

I truly believe that New Zealand could lead the way for this type of bilingual initiative, and not just for libraries. It could be an integral part of the training across the GLAM sector, and also for educators, social services and health services workers.

We could blaze the trail and show the world how it is done. Make it compulsory. Make it flexible. It could be delivered as an integral part of an institution’s existing programme or a number of nationally recognised programmes that already exist could be recognised through prior learning.

In ten to fifteen years time, a basic Māori language course for GLAM may not be as important as many of the new trainees will have progressed through the education system where Te Reo Māori is already mandatory, but it might shift the focus to a deeper discussion of tikanga and tino rangatiratanga. Or maybe we as a country will have already moved on anyhow (she writes ever hopefully).

In terms of NZSL, I see an increase in the number of people who can sign as a big positive, but I haven’t engaged enough recently with the Deaf community to see if this would be welcomed.

Bilingual Librarians

New Zealand has three official languages:

  • Te Reo Māori
  • New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)
  • English

And how many librarians can actually hold a basic conversation in more than one of these official languages?

For me, English is my first language. I have been more fluent in NZSL than I am now – I worked for the Deaf Association for 12 months almost a decade ago. However, I am embarrassed that my Te Reo is not very good. And it is my responsibility to fix that.

And how many of our children are learning at least two, if not three, of these official languages?

Te Whāriki is the curriculum framework for the ECE sector. This outlines what the Early Childhood Education sector will focus on for our next generations. These are our future library customers – in every sector. This is what they will learn, what they will expect. And so how are we going to respond to these language needs & expectations.

And how many of our current library customers actually speak more than one language at home (although not necessarily one of the three official languages)?

The 2006 NZ Census data showed 17.5% of the population spoke two or more languages. I wonder how much this % will change this year, and also how much more it will be in five years or ten years.

Why don’t we make it compulsory for *all* library, archivists, GLAM sector folks can hold a basic conversation in at least two of our official languages in New Zealand? After all, it’s becoming increasingly common in the education sector.

And we’d also encourage them to speak at least another one as well …

With the 2013 NZ Census coming up on 5th March 2013, we have a great opportunity to get hard facts about language use in NZ, and look at how it is changing, where it changing, and figuring out why it is changing.

As Librarians …

We want to be relevant. We want to be reflective of our customers. We want to make information accessible.

So let’s make ourselves relevant. Let’s reflect our customers. Let’s participate in the information creation & access of our customers.

Let’s also make a commitment to our community to learn at least two of NZ’s official languages. Bilingual Librarians indeed.