Nfld. & Labrador

Library project breaks down language barrier for immigrants in St. John's

Public libraries in St. John's are getting hundreds of books in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and other languages as part of a Welcome Project for newcomers to the city.
Readers from several countries were on hand Thursday to show off new multi-lingual picture books at St. John's libraries. (CBC)

Public libraries in St. John's are getting hundreds of children's books in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and other languages as part of a Welcome Project for newcomers to the city.

"Improving accessibility by removing language barriers and creating more opportunities for learning at our local libraries is an important part of the welcoming process," said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth.

Along with the the picture books, there are devices that enable readers to hear books read out loud in several languages and translation services for library information.

Chinese, Arabic and Spanish are just some of the languages you'll see on the shelves. (CBC)

The St. John's Local Immigration Partnership and the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries are behind the Welcome Project, which was unveiled Thursday at the A.C. Hunter Library.

"We can't even express how excited we are," said Willow Jackson Anderson, project officer with the Immigration Partnership.

"This has been a bit of a favourite project of ours for the past few months."

She added that the group has consulted immigrants who are newcomers and others who have lived in St. John's for decades for the project.

"They wanted to see themselves and their cultures in our libraries, their languages, their culture, their people."

The library project includes a PENpal device that translates books into different languages. (CBC)

Libraries were chosen for the project because newcomers and residents both use them.

"They bring together people curious to find out more about the world around them, but also places where people find comfort and familiarity," said Remzi Cej, chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.

While the books are for children, they can be useful for adults as well.

"If I wanted to learn Arabic, it's a great resource to have a very simple picture book," said Anna Swanson, collection co-ordinator for the provincial libraries.

The Welcome Project was funded by an $11,500 grant from the McConnell Family Foundation and Municipalities NL.

Here's a list of what that money paid for:

  • Over 320 new dual language picture books in English and 47 other languages 
  • Over 100 new single language picture books in French, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic 
  • Over 50 new multicultural picture books in English 
  • 'PENpal' pens that allow readers to hear books read out loud to them in several languages 
  • Translation of basic library information into several languages


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?