February 8, 2017

Be the change you want to see in your local library


Tempe Public Library in central Arizona.

“We are eager to serve non-English-speaking constituents that are among us,” says the public library operations supervisor of Tempe, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix). As if we needed another reason to love librarians.

Clay Workman, the hero-librarian behind that wonderful idea, is speaking on the subject of 150 Marathi-language books his library has recently acquired. Marathi is among India’s twenty-two official languages, and it is the nineteenth-most spoken language in the world. It is now, thanks to the organization and initiative of local-library goers, the eighth language in Tempe’s collection.

Tempe resident Bhagyashree Barlingay, in conjunction with Akshaybhasha— an organization that promotes and protects Marathi culture, and of which Barlingay is president—approached the library about the possibility of a Marathi collection last summer. In late January, she donated the trove of books in a ceremony that included songs, skits, and even a bit from “My Fair Lady,” all in Marathi.

Volunteers from Tempe’s Indian community donated their time and effort to catalog the books, an otherwise impossible task for a library that has no Marathi speakers on staff. Participants in the project see their work as a balm for the awful sting of xenophobia that has become official policy in this country. According to Jerod MacDonald-Evoy at the Arizona Republic:

Dr. Rachel Misra, vice president of the Indian Association of Phoenix, attended the opening event and said the new section is not just helpful for Marathi speakers but helps encourage members of other Asian-American groups to pursue similar projects and unify the community as a whole.
“Indian children will appreciate their own culture but learn to appreciate other cultures,” Misra said, adding that in the United States “we don’t know each other” and the collection helps educate the public on other cultures in their community, which “helps stop animosity.”

Linguistic communities seeking representation in their local libraries should take the case of Tempe’s new Marathi collection as a success story, and a model for their own initiatives. Indeed, Workman suggests that his, and other central Arizona libraries, are interested in expanding their non-English holdings.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.