Library Broadening Access to Materials in Multiple Languages

As Johnson County becomes an increasingly diverse county, with a growing Hispanic population and vibrant Asian and European communities, Johnson County Library is responding with new materials.

For many years, the Library has maintained a collection for Spanish-speaking residents. At first the materials were dispersed throughout all 14 branches but that made each branch’s collection too small to promote and to grow. 

In recent years, Spanish-Language materials were consolidated at fewer branches. Now, that collection is expanding to include more items in Russian, Vietnamese, German and French. Six of the 14 branches are part of this important initiative: Central Resource Library, Blue Valley, Oak Park, De Soto, Gardner and the new Merriam Plaza branch. They were chosen based on circulation and demographic data and to make sure all quadrants of the county were included.

“We just started adding more languages to turn it into the World Languages collection this year,” said Rachel Fair, senior collection development clerk. “We knew we wanted to take what was originally a Spanish collection and turn it into a World Languages collection. We do get requests.” 

Fair came to Johnson County Library from the Kansas City Public Library system in 2017 and began working with the Spanish-language collection in 2018. She helped acquire titles mostly for children but also for adults.

Fair recalls that towards the end of 2019, she reviewed Library usage and realized that the requests for items in different languages were increasing. These came through “suggestions for purchase,” known as SFPs. The SFP form is on the website and anyone can fill out a request. The Library makes every effort to be responsive, if those items are available. 

Collection Development Manager Lacie Griffin says the Spanish Language project was supposed to be completed in 2020, but the pandemic put that on pause. The World Languages emphasis began in 2021, although Griffin noted it can be difficult to find materials to purchase. Availability is the first criteria, followed by patron interest.

The Library added a new vendor this year, Ingram, to gain access to more foreign-language works. The collection is starting off small but Fair is committed to this mission. 

“It has expanded into something I’m taking responsibility for,” she said. “I enjoy it. I’m learning so much. I think it’s exciting.”

Fair says some of the books are absolutely beautiful. The Spanish-language graphic novels are especially colorful and that’s one big area of expansion. A frequent request is for Spanish-language versions of Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. She also finds translations of Stephen King novels and a lot of classic literature in translation.

Through Ingram, she’s found titles in Vietnamese, French, German and Russian, and is seeking books in Korean. She hasn’t found any titles in Mandarin Chinese or Japanese yet, although she does get those requests. 

“I’ve been going through the different languages they have access to and I’m trying to fill in our collection with what they can give us,” Fair said.  “I’m selecting whatever titles we can get that fit with the adult and children’s demographics.” 

As the collection gets built out, Fair anticipates that the new Merriam Plaza Library, which replaced the Antioch branch, will have the largest selection. 

“At Antioch, it had a very large Spanish selection that moved pretty well,” she said. “We were given new shelf space to expand at Merriam.”

It’s all very new, but Fair is persistent. She said she and her colleagues will continue to monitor requests and usage to make this new part of the collection as useful and responsive as possible. They realize that, in a county where diversity and multiculturalism are valued and encouraged, Johnson County Library’s World Languages collection will play a vital role in providing that access and fulfilling that mission.