US library battles bigotry

Gwinnett County, Georgia, is not the first place to debate public library services for immigrants. Last summer, opponents of illegal immigration gathered outside Denver Public Library to call for the resignation of the city librarian, who they said was providing services for illegal immigrants at taxpayers’ expense.

In April, Republican state Colorado Assemblyman David Schultheis, attempted—unsuccessfully—to persuade the Colorado Legislature to prevent the state’s public libraries from purchasing any materials, besides textbooks, in a language other than English.

As a growing number of Hispanic immigrants settle in the U.S., some fear they are not making enough progress in learning English. According to U.S. Census data, nearly 20 percent of U.S. residents ages 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, and about 92 percent of the population have no difficulty speaking English.

Raul Gonzalez, legislative director of the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic advocacy group, said that taking Spanish books off library shelves would not encourage immigrants to learn English. Already, he said, many immigrants across the country were enrolled in long waiting lists for English-language classes.

"This policy is based on being aggressively misinformed," he said. "It’s like telling people we want them to eat healthy food, and then banning hot dogs and Coke and not giving them any food."

But K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish, a national English-language advocacy group, said that immigrants who move to the U.S. shouldn’t expect to be catered to in their native languages.

"There shouldn’t be a willy-nilly accommodation of the non-English-speaking community," he said. "We don’t want to dissuade them from learning English by providing too many books in other languages. If it goes too far, if they can find everything they need in Spanish, that’s not appropriate." — LAT/WP