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Red Bank Library uses grant to assist non-English speaking residents

john burton

The Hub

RED BANK — Immigrants from Mexico, Africa, Germany and other faraway places may be finding the local public library a little more user-friendly these days.

To better serve an increasingly multicultural community, especially those for whom English is a second language, the Red Bank Library has used a $5,000 grant from the New Jersey State Library to purchase new materials geared to those who don’t speak English or who want to learn a foreign language.

The Collection Development for Medium-Sized Public Libraries Grant was awarded to the borough’s library last year.

According to adult service librarian Jane Eigenrauch, the library recently used the money to purchase books and audio-visual materials for both its adult and its children’s collections.

With the money, the library was able to supplement its collection of books, compact discs, cassettes and videos to help those trying to improve their English. In addition, librarians were able to increase the amount of foreign language material, Eigenrauch said.

Currently the library has material covering about 15 languages, including Spanish, French, German and Zulu, according to Eigenrauch.

"This grant allows us to fit the needs of the library," she said.

Working in conjunction with the Monmouth County Vocational School District, the library also offers classes in English as a second language. These classes meet every Monday and Wednesday from September to May, and Eigenrauch said they "are very popular for Red Bank and the neighboring towns."

According to Library Director Deborah Griffin-Sadel, the program started a few years ago and has grown in the number of students, with the biggest class last fall of about 40.

This was one of the reasons the library chose to use the money for new language materials, Griffin-Sadel said.

"It’s not that we just decided, ‘Let’s be politically correct,’ " she said. "Basically, the reason for doing it is there is a need out there.

"I think there is a stereotype that people who come to this country from other areas of the world just want to live here and don’t want to learn the language, and that’s just not true."

The library also was able to increase the number of life-skill materials in Spanish, covering such topics as law, medicine, computers, citizenship and home improvement. In addition, the library was also able to include various instructional videos to the collection of materials for learning languages other than English, she said.

The children’s room language collection also grew to support both school language courses and individual learning, Eigenrauch said.

"The materials will help children learn new languages as well as remain fluent in their native languages," she said.

And with the addition of books for younger children in selected languages, Eigenrauch noted, "Parents who are themselves learning English will still be able to enjoy reading to their children."

Using some of the money, the library was able to enlarge its existing compact disc collection, adding recordings of jazz, blues, rock, classical and world music, with an emphasis placed on influential artists and composers in each genre. With these additions, the collection has grown to 275 CDs.

"If you’ve borrowed a CD or used the Internet, you’ve benefited from a state grant," Griffin-Sadel said, adding that because of state grants such as this, the library was able to obtain six computers with Internet access.

Griffin-Sadel said that a couple of years ago, another grant enabled the library to buy more books on African-American history, art and literature.

Beyond just buying books in general as part of the normal budget, she explained, "Grants allow you to select something to work to establish a certain type of collection."

Griffin-Sadel said last year’s operating budget was $450,000, so to receive $5,000 from one source is not an insignificant amount.

In general, the borough contributes the bulk of the library’s operating budget. But it have applied for various grants, Griffin-Sadel said. She said she hopes funds will be available this year to automate the card catalog and to make construction improvements such as making the facility more easily accessible to the handicapped.

Now that the library has these new language books and resources, one of the library’s goals is to spread the word to the people who need them. Part of doing this, according to Griffin-Sadel, is a plan to design cards with instructions — such as how to check out a book — in Spanish, the foreign language most common among the library visitors.

"It’s difficult for library staff — none of whom speak Spanish, for instance — to deal with people who have limited English," she said.

Griffin-Sadel added that she hopes to use volunteers to translate the instructions for her.

In the meantime, she said, "I know a little Spanish, and I’m willing to do a lot sign language."

— Shannon Kelly

contributed to this story