A resource to both Galesburg and the Knox student body, the Galesburg Public Library will soon cater to the growing French-African population.
On a typical afternoon during the week, the library has a good number of patrons, utilizing its book collection, the computers or just looking for a quiet place to take a nap. But over the course of a decade, the French-speaking population of African birth in Galesburg grown from 180 in 2000 to 600 in 2010, according to the official U.S. Census Bureau. The student population at Carl Sandburg Community College also experienced an increase in French-speaking students, from no students in 2000 to 99 as of March of this year.
To serve this rapidly growing population, librarians Luke Gorham and Hillary Higgins applied for and received the Back to Books grant. This grant will provide $3,000 worth of new material in the French language.
Gorham, who has only been with the library since July 2012, noticed the increase in French-African patrons. The predominant need seemed to be general legal help, but the library saw this as a way to help in a bigger way.
“Compared to other places I’ve been and worked, it seemed to be a larger demographic than I was used to. My supervisor started five years ago, and she said they rarely saw any African-based people in here, whereas this year we’re getting them daily, usually,” Gorham said.
In order to receive the grant, the library partnered with Carl Sandburg and Galesburg High School. Other programs are in the works to aid students who are enrolled at both schools to learn English and assist them in adjustment.
“Maddy Ethington is a French teacher [at the high school], so we’re working on programs with her,” Gorham said. “The French students come here for tutoring sessions, and she’s going to try and get the native African students and then the American-born French students in cooperative tutoring, so they can tutor the [American] French students in French and the English students can tutor the French students in English. We’re not running any of that, but we’re cooperating with them and setting up tutoring sessions in the library so they can make us of the materials.”
A few years ago, a similar effort was made to grow the Spanish language collection. With the exceptions of a few Swedish and German books, the French language collection will be the next collection of another language in this library.
Karen Avalos, the Adult Literacy Director at Carl Sandburg, informed the library that the majority of French Africans in the area originate from Congo. The collection will be primarily non-fiction educational books, history books of the Congo and other African countries, current events and some juvenile level biographies and histories for the children’s section. Though it will contain some fiction as well, the collection will focus on assisting the adjustment to the U.S.
“It’s pretty much any non-fiction topic – medical dictionaries and resources, home repair, gardening – things like that that are practical,” Gorham said. “We did get the Harry Potter books, and things that people check out a lot.”
According to the Galesburg Register-Mail, other efforts have been made to make the French-speaking African population feel at home. In July of 2011, a church service in French was held at the Calvary Assembly of God.
The shelves next to the Spanish language section on the main floor have already been cleared in anticipation of the new books. The funds for the grant will be available as of May 1st, and they expect to have to collection up and available by June.