How to Serve the World @ your library

How to Serve the World @ your library

Serving Non-English Speakers

How to Serve the World @ your library is based on ALA's 2007 analysis of library services and programs developed for non-English speakers, including effectiveness of services, barriers to library use, most frequently used services and most success library programs by language served. To learn more about the study itself, please visit

Key Findings from the Study

Spanish is, by far, the most supported non-English language in public libraries. Seventy-eight percent of libraries reported Spanish as the priority #1 language to which they develop services and programs. Asian languages ranked second in priority at 29 percent. Another 17.6 percent of libraries indicated Indo-European languages as a second priority. Smaller communities are serving a larger proportion of non-English speakers. The majority of libraries serving non-English speakers are in communities with fewer than 100,000 residents (484 of all responding libraries). The majority (53.6 percent) of residents in these smaller communities traveled between 1-3 miles to reach a library, and another 21 percent traveled between 4-6 miles.

Literacy is both a barrier for non-English speakers and is what most libraries support in specially designed services and programs for these patrons. Reading and library habits negatively impact use of the library by non-English speakers (76 percent). Knowledge of the services offered by the library was the second most frequent barrier to their participation (74.7 percent) identified by librarians.

Libraries reported the most successful library programs and services developed for non-English speakers were: English as a Second Language (ESL), language-specific materials and collections, computer use and computer classes, story time and special programs. About 21 million people in the United States speak limited or no English – 50 percent more than a decade ago. Staff is faced daily with someone who needs services and does not speak English.

This guide will help you use the study to empower the non-English speakers in your local community.

Downloadable Print Version

How to Serve the World cover

Toolkit Contents


For more information on this toolkit and other resources from ALA on library service to non-English speakers, please contact:

ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services
50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611-2798
800-545-2433, ext. 4294