Public libraries are a lot more than just book repositories.

Historically, libraries in the United States have served as safe havens for community members from all walks of life. Beyond providing us with a wealth of free literature and knowledge, they also host programming, events, and resources that aim to promote a sense of equity within the community. Typically offered at little or no cost, these resources serve to democratize human knowledge and make it more accessible than ever.

Libraries play a particularly crucial role in fostering linguistic diversity and equity within their community by addressing the unique needs of minority populations. Many libraries across the country offer programming like English as a second language (ESL) instruction for members of the community looking to sharpen their English skills, as well as programming and events hosted in different languages spoken prominently throughout their locale.

And that’s not to mention that libraries also offer a huge collection of books, movies, and other media in several different languages spoken throughout their local community.

In this blog post, we’ll examine the work that five public library systems are doing to promote a sense of equity in their local communities, taking a particularly close look at their work for community members with limited English proficiency (LEP).

1. Santa Barbara Public Library

In an effort to meet the needs of Santa Barbara’s growing population of Spanish speakers, the Santa Barbara Public Library formed its Spanish Outreach Team back in January 2022.

Prior to the launch of the Spanish Outreach Team, the library’s employees had noticed a higher demand for Spanish-language services, and made a concerted effort to hire more Spanish-speaking staff. But to make sure that Spanish speakers in the community were aware of the diverse range of services the library system offered, they decided it wasn’t enough to hire Spanish-speaking staff — they also needed to target the Spanish-speaking community in their outreach efforts.

By doing so, the staff say they’ve made Spanish-language titles more accessible to Santa Barbarans with LEP, while also allowing them to tap into just as much knowledge as their English-speaking counterparts.

2. New York Public Library

New York City is widely cited as the most linguistically diverse place in the world, with more than 800 different languages represented among the city’s residents. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city’s public library system is embracing the city’s linguistic diversity and promoting equity through multilingual services.

New York residents with LEP can enroll in free English courses at the library, while learners of other languages can also take classes and participate in conversation groups as well. Members of the library also have free access to Mango Languages, allowing them to sharpen up their language skills from their own homes.

Meanwhile, the library system also has a comprehensive outreach strategy that involves translating marketing materials and information on the library’s services into several languages spoken throughout the community.

The library also has a huge slate of events planned for Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month this month, including bilingual storytimes for Spanish-speaking children. And every April, the library system hosts an annual World Literatures Festival, celebrating books and authors from all across the world.

3. Lawrence Public Library

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led to one of the largest refugee crises in Europe’s history. While most resettled in various locales throughout Europe, more than a quarter million found themselves displaced in the United States.

To promote cultural awareness among residents of their local community, Kansas University and the nearby Lawrence Public Library partnered up earlier this year to host a series of panels and events on Ukrainian culture, history, and the ongoing war in the country. And this past spring, the library also offered Ukrainian courses for members of the community interested in familiarizing themselves with the national language of Ukraine.

4. Washoe County Library

Much like the city of Santa Barbara, Washoe County, Nevada has also seen a pretty big surge in the local Hispanic and Latino population over the last few years. With that rising population, the local library system has seen demand for Spanish-language services increase significantly.

So, the Washoe County Library began hosting bilingual story time events, in which a reader shares a story to children in both English and Spanish. The team behind this effort believes that reading to children in both Spanish and English allows Spanish-speaking children to hear the language outside the home and “normalize” using it outside of their household.

Over time, the library system has begun offering a wide range of programming and resources for Spanish speakers and folks from other linguistic backgrounds, including ESL courses and a Spanish-language research database.

5. Sno-Isle Libraries

As we’ve discussed above, bilingual story time events are a good opportunity for children from diverse linguistic backgrounds to practice their native language with people outside of their household.

That’s why the Sno-Isle Library system in the state of Washington is planning on expanding its story time program to offer these events in Spanish, Russian, and Korean, among a handful of others. The library system recently received a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation, which it’s partly using to improve its outreach strategy.

By working with speakers of different languages, the library system is hoping to make its resources and services more accessible to populations with LEP, allowing them to tap into the wealth of knowledge available through the library system.


Libraries hold great potential for promoting linguistic diversity and equity — from language courses, to multilingual story hours, to collecting multimedia in several different languages, libraries have the ability to empower individuals from all sorts of linguistic backgrounds.

If you work for a library and would like to improve your multilingual programming, resources, and outreach to LEP communities, Avantpage is happy to help. We offer translation, localization, and interpreting services that can boost your multilingual, multicultural outreach efforts. Contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040 for more information.