11 November 2017

How to Use a Multilingual Library

In April 2016, our patron David Crystal enlightened us as to why multilingual libraries matter. Bilingualism (multilingualism in our case) is a mental exercise, makes you more creative, helps you enhance your interpersonal skills and meet new friends, it raises awareness of the world you live in and is also a great plus to have on your CV. In the globalised world, knowing more than one language is more and more beneficial, and, luckily, it is also easier and easier, particularly when you can take advantage of places like the Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library in Eldon Garden.
I have been volunteering at the library since April 2016, a little before David Crystal’s inspiring speech, and know everything about it by now. I explain to all new visitors that, for only £5 a year, they can borrow our books. I have signed up many new members, and several of them have become friends, others have even become volunteers, and our family is expanding faster and faster. But many visitors never come back, many are unsure of how we can help them achieve their goals, many think it’s not a place for them because they are not fluent in dozens of foreign languages. After over a year and a half of volunteering every weekend, I have come to realise that many people misunderstand what libraries are for and what the Multilingual Library is about. So I have decided to dedicate my first blog post to getting to the bottom of this. Here is a brief guide on how to use the Multilingual Library, to show you that there’s plenty for everyone.
Let’s start by debunking some myths.

Myth # 1. Libraries are only about books. No. Libraries are about people who write books about people, for people. In libraries you meet people, you work with people, around books. If you are not that much into reading, if you struggle with reading, don’t let this put you off. There are many ways to learn, and the library is a place to learn, with many different tools. Just bear with me until the end of this blog post, and you’ll see.

Myth # 2. You do not spend time in a library. Wrong. Many members come in, browse, find an interesting book, bring it to the counter and give it to me to stamp a due date on it. Then they disappear until that date. But here is a question: did you ever notice we have a lounge and a desk in the ML? Those are not just for us volunteers (although we do our school work, bring cake on birthdays and sit down with our friends for a cup of tea there too). Our study area is for everyone. Often students come in to prepare for exams when all other libraries are packed.
Our lounge is used in many ways. First, we use that space to celebrate festivals and holidays from around the world and bring together volunteers or groups. Then, as some of our books are not lendable, especially rare ones or picture books, we are happy to let you read them in the library. You can sit down any time, you can come in with your children and read to them, teach them to read and write. You can also simply rest, and have a chat with us. (Oh, we also provide a quiet space if you want to pray!) And I am saying this, to introduce below some activities you can do in the library, to dispel myth # 3.
Myth # 3. You need to be able to read a whole book in foreign language to use the Multilingual Library. Did you ever talk to me in the library? Then you know my first question is not what languages you speak, but what languages are you interested in. Icelandic? Cool. Finnish? Challenging! Korean? We have it! Let’s imagine you wanted to pick up Portuguese from scratch. Here is how the library can help you with that.
Come to the counter and tell the volunteers which language(s) you want to learn. Somebody in our team may be a native speaker or a learner as well, we may have tips, know good websites, be available to help you practice conversation or answer your grammar questions.
Use our space to study. We do not lend dictionaries or grammar books, but we have plenty. How about you let us know your study plans and we keep a dictionary and a grammar book there for you to use when you come in. It is especially useful if you want to learn a minority language: material may not be easy to find elsewhere. For instance, where else can you find a Klingon dictionary?!
Start small. Are you not fluent yet? Start with children’s books. Read simple texts before moving on to harder ones. Ask our volunteers to help you find the best material for your level. Trust us: some of us are teachers, language teachers, translators, and we all are experienced language learners.
Network. Never heard me saying: “we’re a hub!”. I mean that. We keep lists of language teachers, language schools, and are currently working on a list of online material for you.
Like our Facebook page. Why? We advertise our events there (if you can’t drop in and have a look at our colourful posters). We host classes, we organise events, culture days, and amazing storytelling afternoons in various languages, we celebrate festivals. Everybody welcome. Free of charge.
And did you know that you can help us too? Sure! Let’s debunk the last myth.

Myth # 4. There's no point in coming to the Multilingual Library if I am not into foreign languages. Actually, our most loyal members do not read any language but English. And guess what: they never get bored! Half of our books are in English (that’s a language, a beautiful one too!), so if you’re into world literature, world history, world music, culture, geography, art, philosophy, religions, and, last but not least, cooking, the Multilingual Library is the place for you.
Do you want to learn? We are the perfect place for you! We love to have our friends and volunteers tell the stories behind their traditions. Do you want to learn more about the Chinese Moon Festival? Or about Diwali, just to name a few we have celebrated? We do not just have fun, we aim to educate people about other cultures. Do you want to help us educate others on your culture and religion? You know where to find us. We can’t wait to meet you.
Are you from Newcastle? We are keen to hear your stories too! In the spring, for example, we organised a series of talks on local history, and we often promote poetry gatherings. We care about local art, dialects, culture, we want to learn all you can teach us. (And, by the way, if you wanted to give Geordie classes, we would be more than happy to host them! We are proud to have Geordie on our language list.)

Do you speak English? If so, why don’t you:
Volunteer in the Multilingual Library. You can help our foreign volunteers and our members improve their English. Do you teach English: do you want to give classes? Do you translate or proofread? Come and talk to us; we can provide the space and the contacts.
Review a book. Do you like reading? Do you like writing? We welcome reviews of our books and any reading suggestions you may have for our members.
Get involved. The Multilingual Library is a charity, one of the projects of the Kittiwake Trust. Go and visit Borderline Books in Gateshead when you get a chance. We not only care about books and languages, we aim to make the world a better place. If you do too, there are many ways you can make your contribution to society. Network with our friends, find the perfect project for you.

If I have convinced you, if I have inspired you, I look forward to meeting you in the Multilingual Library. It’s a small place, but we accomplish big things.

20 June 2017

My time as a volunteer at the Multilingual Library

In September 2016 I first came to the UK to finish my Bachelor’s degree at Newcastle University. With classes that met only twice a week, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. At first I tried finding a job but after receiving my fair share of rejections I turned to volunteering instead. It did not take me long to decide that no matter where I would end up, there would have to be books involved.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved books. Librarians seemed surprised anytime I checked out a pile of books that reached so high I could hardly see when I held them. Though the volume has decreased a little since then, I still try to read at least a few pages every day. And if a book captures my attention I have absolutely no trouble staying up past 3 AM ‘just to finish this chapter’.

And so my search began. Since I didn’t know anyone in Newcastle, I asked my good friend Google. I learnt of a variety of volunteer projects in the area, but not many of them were concerned with books. Until I stumbled upon Borderline Books, that is. One problem: it was all the way in Gateshead (and if I knew anything at that point, it was that you’re supposed to hate everything south of the river). I was almost ready to give up and go into one of the many charity shops – they, too, have books, after all – when I saw a mention of a related project. Something called the Multilingual Library. And, lo and behold, it was in Newcastle!

Not only am I a book enthusiast, I am also a bit of a polyglot (Dutch, English, German, French and Russian to be precise, but I also know Latin and Ancient Greek). A place where I would be able to combine the two simply seemed too good to be true. But it had an address and a Facebook page, so I figured it must be legit. And that is how I found myself sending a message asking if there were any volunteer positions available.

The reply came two hours later, consisted of a mixture of both Dutch and English, and asked me to come by the next day, just to have a look around the place. I did, and ended up staying almost five hours. From that moment onwards, I came in twice a week. After only a few weeks I started opening and closing by myself, and even security personnel seemed to know who I was. 

While I liked the work I did at the library (processing and cataloguing books, helping people, hosting events), it was my fellow volunteers who truly made my experience great. I made friends from all over the world and got to hear their stories as well as share mine. With some I shared the experience of being abroad and getting used to British culture, others helped me navigate that same culture by telling me the ins and outs. And if I ever did feel homesick, there would often be someone to speak Dutch with me. 

In total I spent eight months at the library (October 2016 – May 2017) and I already know that I am going to miss Newcastle. I’ll try to be back whenever I can, but until then: tot ziens!

 Amina says:
Thanks SO much for all the work you put in A - we miss you already and look forward to your visits in future (with stroopwaffels!) - Hartelijk dank en veel plezier in Nederland.

2 February 2017

New Year - New Events

A little late for the first blog of the year but never mind, we have lovely things in store for you.

Storytime has started up again with the monthly Polish edition. From 4 March we will also have a regular Arabic storytime - every first Saturday of the month at 2.30. This is a free event - though if anyone feels like dropping a donation in the pot to help cover the electricity costs we'd be very happy.

Rainbow Babies will also meet regularly again on the first Saturday of the month at 11.30.

We are also going to host four talks on local history by Tom Butler, a regular member of the library for more than a year now. Tom always had wonderful stories about the history of Newcastle and we all tended to down tools to listen to him. In the end we decided we had to invite him to come and give public talks. These will start on 24 February and be held every Friday at 3pm for four weeks in a row.  - And look, even if history isn't really your 'thing' Tom will have you spellbound! He is just so interesting to listen to and always has an answer to whatever questions you can come up with - so please come and give these talks a try. He hopes to awaken an interest in local history so that people will continue to discover more for themselves.
These talks are also free (how nice we are) - not only that, but there will be tea as well. Now that's an offer you can't refuse!

28 November 2016

What’s on at the library?

I’ve volunteered at the Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library twice now and I have to say the experience has been every bit as lovely as I’d hoped it would be. Thank you to the rest of the team for being so welcoming and accommodating, it’s been great working with you all. One of my favourite things about volunteering here is seeing everyone’s reactions as they discover its existence for the first time. Seeing so many smiles, lit-up eyes and genuinely excited faces has really cheered me up and made the experience so worthwhile and so too has been having the chance to talk to new people as they share such interesting stories about their lives, cultures and language-learning journey. I’m looking forward to meeting many more people very soon, as the library will be hosting something for everyone in the next few weeks.

The Italian and French conversations groups on Fridays are suspended during December. Watch this space or our Facebook page for news of when it will begin again in January. The French language groups on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will also pause in December - for more information write to frenchonthetyne@yahoo.co.uk
We have our monthly parent and baby event, Rainbow Babies taking place on Saturday 3rd December. Rainbow Babies is open to all LGBTQ parents and their little ones between 11am and 2pm. It’s the perfect opportunity to take some time out with your kids to relax with a nice cup of tea, play, meet other parents and make new friends.

On Saturday 10th December 5pm-7pm, the library will play host to a public meeting held by The Migration and Asylum Justice Forum. The organisation works hard campaigning for jobs, employment rights, housing and healthcare for migrants and refugees and would welcome your support and views. The meetings are a great opportunity to get your voice heard, with Saturday’s meeting focusing on current governmental policies towards immigration and healthcare.

Christmas festivities will take place on 17th December as we will be having a children’s party from 2pm-5pm. Join us with your family as we bring wordy cheer to Newcastle with a sprinkling of snowflakes and of course a few fairy lights.There will be fun and games with poetic words in a variety of languages. Who knows - there might even be cake!
Finally, we will be closed over the Christmas period between Saturday 24th December and 2nd January and normal service will resume on Tuesday 3rd January 2017. We have many more events coming soon in the New Year and we’d love to see you there. I really hope one of our events interests you. Don’t forget you’re always welcome to come in to browse and chat. Membership and full access to our fantastic array of books resources for a whole year is a mere £5 and the more members we have, the merrier!

Emma Collingwood

15 November 2016

First Impressions

Discovering Newcastle’s own multilingual library was a pleasant surprise and as someone with an interest in languages who loves a good library, I only wish I’d discovered it sooner. Hidden away on the top floor of Eldon Garden, The Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library seems a world away from a busy Saturday on Northumberland Street and the shops below as the countdown to Christmas commences and I was thankful for its peaceful ambiance. 

My first visit was only supposed to be a look round (honest!) but I was definitely drawn in and found myself saying “I’d like to volunteer” almost straight away. The room itself is decorated beautifully and is definitely an instant calming influence. However, what is more impressive is the 7000 books in over 65 languages (and counting) that have been given a new home there. 
The library has books and resources for language learners and enthusiasts of all levels and the regular story time events and selection of children’s books mean that even the youngest linguists won’t miss out. 

I start volunteering tomorrow so I’ll have finished my first day volunteering by the time this appears on the blog. I should say at this point that this is my first ever blog post. I haven’t written much other than university assignments for what feels like a long time, so please be nice. I’m very much looking forward to my first day and I’ll be sure to update you all soon on how it went. In the meantime, here are some testimonials from some friendly Facebook users. I hope they persuade you to pay us a visit or even a return visit very soon. 
I stumbled across this hidden gem by pure chance today... It certainly seems like a very precious place which I am pleased to now be aware of... I will spread the word about the many words tucked away in this novel little nook.”

Fantastic resource in the heart of Newcastle where a warm welcome and a wide range of literature in many languages awaits!”

This is a really lovely space to enjoy books of different languages and cultures. It's great to have such a unique initiative here in Newcastle. This is a must visit for language lovers.”

The Library is a lovely, charming place. I am so grateful for such places in Newcastle, this one made me eventually truly get to like the city!”

An amazing resource for lucky people in and around Newcastle. I love it!”

I’m looking forward to meeting the library’s regular visitors as well as some new faces, so please come and check out the books and resources available at The Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library*.
*Pun 100% intended! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Emma Collingwood
14 November 2016

1 May 2016

Crystallization Day

On 28 April, our Patron (yes I DO want to use a capital letter as his endorsement is so important to us) David Crystal came to give a talk at the Multilingual Library. It is printed here with his permission. It does not reflect some of the very complimentary things he said about the library, but once we upload the video, you will be able to hear that as well. 

Why multilingual libraries matter

I spy, with my little eye, two words beginning with ... L.
It's a languages library.

L proves to be an interesting letter in English, because it introduces so many words strongly associated with the venture you have launched here: Literature. Languages. Living. Loving. Lending. Learning. Leisure. Legacy ...
How best to capture the spirit, the ethos, the value of libraries? Over the centuries, people have marvelled at them. They have been called a temple, a refuge, a second home, a leisure centre, a discovery channel, an advice bureau. It is a place where you can sit and draw the shelves around you like a warm cloak. When we gain a library we gain a source of wellbeing. The inscription over the door of the library at the ancient city of Thebes read (in classical Greek): 'The medicine chest of the soul'.
The lauding of libraries crosses centuries and cultures. First and foremost they are seen as repositories of knowledge, windows into history. 'A great library', said Canadian scientist George Mercer Dawson (1849-1901), 'contains the diary of the human race.' And especially when it is multilingual. 
The metaphor of a library as a treasure trove is a recurrent figure. Let's bring together some famous personalities, and see what they have to say. Here is British poet and journalist John Alfred Langford (1823-1903): 'The only true equalisers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library.' And Malcolm Forbes (1919-90), the publisher of Forbes magazine, is in no doubt about the appropriateness of the wealth metaphor: 'The richest person in the world - in fact all the riches in the world - couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.' And this is writer Germaine Greer (1939- ): 'libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy'. For Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) it transcends life itself: 'I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library'.
I like the reservoir metaphor - a library as a source of knowledge, waiting for us to simply turn on a tap. Like water, libraries are essential to our wellbeing, whatever our language background. As the American social reformer Henry Ward Beecher (1813-87) said, 'A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.' It is a means of self-improvement, of advancement. Or, as poet and humorist Richard Armour (1906-89) put it in 1954:
Here is where people, / One frequently finds,
Lower their voices / And raise their minds.
And it brings together people from all walks of life.
Listen to the claim made by American cardinal Terence Cooke (1921-83): 'America's greatness is not only recorded in books, but it is also dependent upon each and every citizen being able to utilize public libraries.' Listen to American astronomer Carl Sagan:
The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
Listen to science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov (1920-92):
I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.
Have you noticed? I've just quoted from a Roman Catholic cardinal, a scientist, and a science fiction novelist. All sending out the same message. There can be few subjects like libraries to unite such disparate and distinguished minds. 
As the British politician Augustine Birrell (1850-1933) once said: 'Libraries are not made; they grow.' That takes time. Behind each library, no matter how small, is a history of growth, watered by the professionalism of the library's caretakers and the enthusiasm of its readers. It is not an enterprise that can be measured by numbers. It is quality that counts, not quantity. No political body should fall into the trap of judging the success of a library solely in terms of the number of its visitors. That lone reader in the corner: who knows what personal potential will be realized in the future because of today's library experience? As American poet Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) said: 'What is more important in a library than anything else - than everything else - is the fact that it exists.' If it exists, it will be used. And French writer Victor Hugo (1802-85) sums it up: 'A library implies an act of faith'.
And a multilingual library most of all, because of all the benefits that knowing more than one language can bring.

Bilingual benefits
It's normal to be bilingual. When we look around the globe, we find that three-quarters of the world’s population use at least two languages in their everyday lives, and half use at least three. Only a few nations - chiefly those who once had powerful colonies - have stayed monolingual. To be bilingual is the usual human condition.

You will still meet people who hold old-fashioned beliefs about bilingualism. You might hear somebody say that trying to speak more than one language will make your brain tired. Or that the two languages will get mixed up. Or that knowing two languages will slow you down when you're doing your schoolwork.

None of these beliefs are true. The brain has over 100 billion connections (called neurons) that it uses to receive, store, and send information. A language doesn't take up much of that brain space. People who speak languages like English and Spanish use only a few dozen sounds, a few thousand ways of making sentences, and a vocabulary of a few tens of thousand words. That might seem like a lot, but the brain handles it all easily. The evidence lies in the millions of people around the world who speak three, four, or five languages in their everyday lives without any trouble at all. And then there are the super-language-learners, who can handle twenty or thirty languages without their brain exploding. And anyone can be a super-language-learner. You just need a really good reason for learning each new language.

Many research studies have shown that learning more than one language is good for you - and learning lots of languages is especially good for you.

Being bilingual helps you to think more powerfully
Languages make people think in different ways. When you're speaking Spanish you think in one way; when you're speaking English you think in a different way. The mental exercise of moving from one language to the other makes your brain more active. It makes you more creative. It helps you solve problems more easily. And researchers have found out that being bilingual helps your brain to stay healthier when you grow old.

Being bilingual helps you to understand the world better
Language exists so that we can talk about the world to each other, and talk about ourselves and our feelings. Each language does this in its own way. The way Spanish talks about the world is different from the way English does. Every language, no matter how few speakers it has, tells us something unique about the way the world works. So, the more languages you know, the more you will come to understand what it is to be a human being on this planet.

Being bilingual helps you to feel proud of yourself

If you find yourself in a country where you don't speak the language, you're like a baby who can't talk. Learning another language, even to a limited level, removes the frustration of being unable to communicate when you find yourself in a place where it is spoken. You also feel you've really achieved something. You're right to feel proud of yourself, when you've learned another language.

Being bilingual helps you build friendships
We live in a world where a war can start because people have misunderstood each other. Learning each other's language can be an important step towards achieving cooperation among countries. Interpreters and translators are essential, but they can't replace the sense of mutual respect which comes from personal linguistic ability. Being able to speak someone else's language is the first step towards making them a friend.

Being bilingual stops you being scared of languages
The more languages you know, the more you come to understand how language works. You stop being frightened of languages and you find new languages easier to learn. You also become more aware of the characteristic features of your mother-tongue. English-speaking people often say they learned a lot about English grammar by seeing how it differs from other languages.

Being bilingual improves your social skills
Learning another language is to learn another culture and another way of behaving. As a result, bilingual people develop a broader range of social skills, and become more outward-looking. They are also likely to have a greater respect for the differences among cultures, and that can only be a good thing in a world where there is so much conflict.

Being bilingual can get you a better job
For most people, this is the best benefit of all. These days, many companies are international, and are looking out for people who can speak more than one language - and, even more important, who aren't frightened of learning new languages. These companies know they'll be more successful selling goods if they can do this in the language of the customer.

So, a multilingual library has a lot to celebrate. And perhaps at no better time than on the two big days of the year: Mother-tongue Day on 21 February and the European Day of Languages on 26 September. But the rest of the year too.

© David Crystal 2016

24 April 2016

David Crystal to become our Patron!

On Thursday 28 April, world renowned linguist, author, editor, lecturer and broadcaster David Crystal will come to the Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library in Eldon Garden to give a talk entitled Why multilingual libraries matter - David Crystal reflects on why libraries are so important, and why multilingual libraries are the most important of all.
As of that date, he will also become Patron of the library.

The library, which opened in August 2015, is run by local charity, The Kittiwake Trust. It currently has approximately 5000 books in more than 60 languages (and Geordie) and over 200 members. The library is run by volunteers and up to now has done no publicity apart from word of mouth, flyers, a single-page website and a Facebook page. Priority has been given to unpacking and arranging the books, training the volunteers and talking to as many of the visitors as possible in order to find out what is most needed.

Having David Crystal as Patron is a huge honour and his visit will be the first public exposure of the library. Since it has been operating for several months, it didn't seem right to call the event an 'opening' – it is more accurate to say it is becoming definite, becoming delineated, taking shape, falling into place, developing, taking on character, becoming visible, becoming a reality – in short, it is crystallizing.

Kittiwake Trust Multilingual Library
27-29 Eldon Garden (Upper Level)
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RA
Thursday 28 April 2016, 3pm