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  • Caroline

Modern languages and the role of libraries

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

"When in doubt, go to the library." Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

A one-day conference was organised on wednesday 4th of September by the West European Studies library and Information Network at the French Institute in London in order to review the state of modern languages learning and explore ways in which librarians can support this endeavour.

Interesting thoughts have been outlined as to how the physical space of the library can impact on feeling and learning. Architects, designers and librarians should work hand in hand to create rooms which support multiple purposes including access to digital tools, a place to meet and talk, and a quiet area for concentration and study.

While some prefer quiet spaces to delve into complex endeavours, others like to attend conversation or translation workshops. These types of activities are the perfect opportunity to practice language skills. One challenge many public libraries face at the moment is the rise of refugees arriving from foreign countries and wishing to learn the language of the host country. Librarians do not necessarily speak languages such as arab, pashto, swahili, kurdish, turkish and other dialects. Still, it is important to improve their language skills and prepare toolkits with downloadable useful information. Many great initiatives have flourished all over the world (blah blah lunch, ideas box, Multaka: Museum as meeting point)

An issue more specific to university libraries has also been raised. Called the “imposters’ syndrome” both students and academics sometimes have the impression they should not be here and deep down they are scared to fail. Many want to make a mark and seek encouragement. In this aspect librarians can also help and answer specific questions. For those intimidated by complex digital tools, help is often a few steps away.

Overall libraries should be accessible and make people feel welcome. Yet once people get used to using the facilities, many attest of a feeling of introspection, relaxation and well-being. The general public, students and academics connect to generations of people who have been through the same experience.

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