Bilingual Material in Libraries Draws Some Criticism

September 5, 2005

DENVER, Sept. 4 (AP) - On a rainy Saturday, Miereya Gomez thumbed through a book while her two young sons carried comic books to their father in the children's section of this city's Central Public Library.  

"We come here mostly for the kids, for books and movies - educational and entertainment - in Spanish and English," Ms. Gomez said.

As the Spanish-speaking population has grown in the United States, libraries have tried to keep pace by stocking up on books, magazines and movies in Spanish.

In some places, however, critics say taxpayer money should not be spent on a population that can include illegal immigrants or on proposals that promote languages other than English.

In Denver, where the foreign-born population tripled between 1990 and 2000, largely because of Mexican immigrants, the public library system is considering reorganizing some of its branches to emphasize bilingual services and material.

Similar efforts have been taken by libraries across the country, from the Queens Library in New York City, whose Web site is offered in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Russian and Korean, to the large Chinese-language collection at the San Francisco Public Library.

And it is not just the nation's biggest cities.

"The interest is in rural areas and cities that aren't the usual Spanish areas, like New York or Miami, but in North Carolina, Illinois and the Midwest," said Carmen Ospina, editor of Critica, a magazine for librarians that highlights Spanish-language material.

Ms. Ospina said questions about starting Spanish-language collections have come from librarians in Belton, Mo.; Nashville, Ga.; and towns she had never heard of.

"It's definitely a growing trend," said Carol Brey-Casiano, former president of the American Library Association.

But the trend is drawing scrutiny in Denver.

Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, sent a public letter to Mayor John W. Hickenlooper of Denver this summer asking if the library was considering Spanish-only branches or converting to Spanish-language material at the expense of English material. Mr. Tancredo, an outspoken critic of American immigration policies, said he had been contacted by concerned librarians and patrons.

"When you have a strong cultural identity and there aren't set incentives to become American, it creates a lot of tension and divides the community," said Mr. Tancredo's spokesman, Will Adams.

Those concerns were echoed by Michael Corbin, a radio talk show host who helped organize a protest outside Denver's central library after sexually graphic content was found in some Spanish-language adult comic books, which were later removed.

Denver library officials say they are not considering Spanish-only branches in their reorganization plan but are simply trying to accommodate a city where 35 percent of residents are Hispanic.

Janet Cox, adult services supervisor at the Pueblo Library District, said: "We provide material to meet the needs of the people in the area, whether that be in English or Spanish or another language. That's important. That's what libraries do."