Teen Translator Interns @ the Sacramento Public Library

I am in charge of teen volunteers at the Arcade library and had noted that, of our approximately two dozen volunteers, many of them spoke languages other than English. At the same time, the Arcade library was seeing a large influx of new patrons who spoke said languages from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria; teens were also regularly asking about finding paid work in our area. I wanted to create an opportunity for the volunteers to use their linguistic skills and develop new ones related to professional working environments. It was also important to me that they be paid for their efforts.

I then came across a YALSA grant designed to monetarily support interns at one’s library and applied. I was informed that my program had been selected for one of the grants in early 2017. The amount of the grant totaled $1,000, all of which I paid directly to the interns.

The first thing I did after getting the grant was solidify the job description for the interns. I made the schedule flexible and the requirements loose – at minimum, applicants had to be at least 13 years old and be able to get to the library reliably. I highlighted the fact that teens who spoke Arabic, Persian/Dari, and/or Pashto would be given priority and that they would be paid. I also determined that, ideally, I would hire two interns – one who spoke Arabic, and one who spoke Persian/Dari, as those were the languages most often appearing in the community and that no library staff spoke. The description specified that interns were to email me with an answer to the question of why it was important for their community to have access to information.

Once this was finished, I sent the posting to teachers, administrators, and other community contacts in the Arcade area. When performing outreach, I talked about the opportunity to classes, especially those with adult ESL students, once the posting was translated into Pashto, Arabic, and Persian.

I received approximately 40 applications for the two positions and, along with my colleague Vanessa and interpreters Lara and Hamayoun, interviewed about 30 of them. (I was willing to give everyone who applied a chance, but several did not respond to my request to set up an interview date.) We interviewed teens over the course of two weeks at the Carmichael library, since Arcade was closed, and blocked out about half an hour for each interview, though most times only 15 minutes was needed.

For those teens who spoke the target languages – Arabic, Persian/Dari, and Pashto – Hamayoun (Pashto, Persian/Dari) and Lara (Arabic) held a short conversation with them from a list of questions, ranging from what people learning their languages should do to better their understanding to how their favorite food dish was made. They also evaluated a flyer that the teens were supposed to have translated prior to the interview. This was done to thoroughly assess each teen’s reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in their non-English languages.

Following this portion of the interview (or not including it at all; many teens only spoke English or a non-target language), Vanessa and I traded off asking the teens more typical interview questions. It was very difficult to make a final decision, but, in the end, we chose those who both stood out from the pack in terms of their interview, following directions, and initial applications. The interpreters also weighed in with who they thought were the best candidates.

The teen interns were trained separately before the Arcade library reopened. I went over the volunteer handbook with them, as well as the Summer Reading Program guidelines, the layout of Arcade, and expectations for them as an intern/volunteer. Documents relating to these topics were put on a flash drive and given to each intern for additional help. The interns were also given Chromebooks to work on when they weren’t immediately needed for interpretation or outreach. Once Arcade reopened, they were stationed near the front of the library with SRP materials to help both people who spoke Arabic/Persian/Dari and those who wanted to sign up for the SRP.

The interns translated a few dozen library event flyers between them, in addition to interpreting during outreach and daily in-library interactions. They also conducted tours of the library for Arabic/Persian/Dari speakers and spoke to school groups about library services.

Humaira leading a tour of the Arcade library for Dari-speaking ESL adults from a local school. I had expected to lead the group with her interpreting what I said, but she took charge after I showed her the tour’s path, explaining the SRP and library materials as well as the Design Spot.

Because of these interns, I estimate that we were able to reach hundreds of adults and youth who might not have otherwise been aware of the library or its services. The interns’ language skills and cultural capital were critical factors in being able to reach audiences who did not speak English and were new to the US. Their translations were sent out to partner organizations, expanding the library’s reach further and showing that the library values languages other than English and is responding to community needs. Finally, their presence helped to better reflect some of the Arcade library’s communities and demonstrated that the library values teens and their contributions.

Teen intern Adian, who is from Iraq and speaks Arabic, talking with and reading to children during an outreach event at a local apartment complex.

Tips

– Make the intern announcement very specific in terms of the application process, languages desired, etc. Write out exactly what should be in the initial email/application.

– If the interns state they speak a language other than English, vet them thoroughly using techniques similar to those listed in previous sections.

– Include teen interns in staff meetings and introduce them to staff face-to-face; they should be a part of the library’s team.

– Coach teens in engaging library patrons, walking around the library regularly to see if anyone needs help, and, of course, in terms of outreach.

– Include teens on outreach trips!

– Make sure teens can get to the library reliably (grant money may allow paying for transit passes, etc.); that they understand their schedules (ours fluctuated a bit due to Ramadan and it really threw off the interns); and that they’re flexible (for outreach purposes).

– Instruct teens in what to do if they’re ever in an uncomfortable situation. This happened a couple of times, and I was very clear in telling them they could leave the situation without worrying they would get in trouble and tell me what was going on.

Molly Milazzo is the Youth Services Librarian at the Sacramento Public Library – Arcade Branch.

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