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Diversity Discussions: (Inter)Cultural Programming at the Library, by Jayla

About two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a training session on Diversity and Outreach. The presenters of the program are the duo behind the edutainment team, Crisscross Mango Sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the information that the ladies shared with us. One of the things that stuck with me as I was leaving the session deals with how libraries should incorporate intercultural, not multicultural, programs into our libraries.
You may be wondering what the difference between intercultural and multicultural is.  In a nutshell, multicultural programs are those programs that bring a person of another culture in, but we don’t exchange information. There may be dialog from the presenter, but there isn’t an interaction between groups. As librarians, we should be providing teens with well-rounded cultural experiences. Intercultural programs allow for that exchange to happen.
An exercise the Crisscross Mango Sauce duo asked us to complete sums up my explanation very well. All training participants were asked to break into pairs and, for five minutes, we discussed the prompt, “How did you mother show you…?” The prompt topics included things like beauty, affection, trust, and knowledge. Despite almost all of us having been born into the American culture, we all held so many different ideas of these common topics. Our experiences were all different, but a few pairings shared similar ideals. It was very eye opening and, in five minutes, I learned a lot about people I’d never even met before!

Libraries are diverse populations already. People from different nationalities and ethnicities come into our buildings to find information. Why not use those people as sources of information? You may not use them for your program, but more than likely they know who the cultural leaders are in the community. The most important thing about intercultural programming, any programming really, is to bring people from outside of the library, into the library. I can guarantee you that within your community, there is a group that includes some culture drastically different from your own. Use them! Pick their brain!
One of my co-workers put together a fabulous Spanish-English story time, complete with piñata, jarabe (or the “Mexican Hat Dance”), and duo-language story time. And, get this; she didn’t have to plan ANYTHING! Of course my co-worker conversed with the presenter and they talked about some things she would need to include in the program. But, for the most part, the outsider presenter was the one who ran the program.  
Often times the focus for diversity is spotlighted on younger children. For example, the American Library Association has a wonderful initiative called El Dia de los Niños (dia.ala.org), Dia for short, which celebrates cultural diversity among children. Dia, Diversity in Action, is geared towards children, but I see no reason that teens can’t be a part of that mix as well. It is just as important for teens to realize the wonderful things they can learn from someone not like them. 
If you are doing cultural programming in your library, what are some of the resources you use? Are they internal (patrons) or external (business, community centers, etc.)?
List some of the cultural (past, present, and future) programs that take place in your library! What was the response? From teens? From presenters?  Let’s discuss in the comments.


  1. This was for younger children, but…we got together all the moms from storytime that were from different countries and cultures and we did a “snacking around the world” series of programs. Each one featured snacks from the different countries and a storytime that focused on rhymes and songs from that country. The moms participated to their comfort level – some contributed recipes, others got more involved and actually led parts of the storytime. This was a joint program between my library and a school-sponsored initative, Parent Connections, which I collaborate heavily with. Even in our very small, non-diverse town we had plenty of moms from Mexico, a Vietnamese lady (not a mom of a little one, but a storytime volunteer), one of our staff had a mom who was from England, we had someone from Poland, and our Vietnamese volunteer helped us do a France-themed one, since there's a lot of French influence in the area she grew up in.

  2. That's great! Do you think it would be possible to recreate that idea for teens? Or tweens? I would have loved this type of programming as a teen (had I been active in libraries).

    The town I live in is very small, but we have a lot of families that are of Asian and Spanish/Latino descent. I like the idea that you partnered with a school initiative!

  3. I don't see why not – I would get the teens themselves involved and sharing the food, traditions, etc. of their families and culture with their friends. I think the important part is not putting all the weight on the teen (or mom) let them decide if they just want to give you ideas or if they want to actually cook the food themselves, etc. We were focused on snacks, so we had a lot of things the little kids could put together themselves. And, to clarify, my partnership with Parent Connections wasn't just for this – the woman who runs it (is it really!) and I have been close collaborators for years – she does more than half of my storytimes and we program together all the time.

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