Storm Lake Library’s Multilingual, Sister City Efforts Thrive

(story by Dana Larsen)

Storm Lake Public Library continues its international outreach, as Director Elizabeth Huff has just returned from her latest trip to Mexico to attend the massive annual international book fair there, while renewing ties with the city’s Sister Library.

It was the first time the Guadalajara trip has been possible since 2019, due to COVID concerns. The trip is vital to the library’s efforts to build on its Spanish language collection with the latest and greatest in titles. The Storm Lake Library was first represented at the fair in 2008. In that time, the Spanish collection has gradually grown to an estimated 7,000 pieces, books and media. “This has come with the support of the library board of trustees,” Huff said. “With the schools’ infancy of bi-lingual classrooms, it is even more important to provide good, faithful translations, especially in children’s books. Having translations of current works is important to this community.”

The library would also like to pull in some titles in other languages. To that end, Huff is working to establish some contacts with the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, the largest literary trade event in the world. She is finding that leaders in the industry internationally share the U.S. libraries’ concern over potential book banning efforts.

The Guadalajara Fair also offered a unique opportunity – as Huff was able to attend an Arab nations’ dance performance for universality and peace. While COVID had hit the event hard, she was encouraged to see that it had returned to perhaps 80 percent of the size it had been before the pandemic. “Many publishers are probably still reeling,” Huff said.

A highlight of each trip to Mexico is a visit to Storm Lake’s Sister Library, at the school Colegio Salesiano Anahuac Chapalita in Zapopan, Mexico. Huff delivered copies of several prize-winning U.S. books for children and young people, which are donated by the Friends of the Library group. The books are prized as the school seeks to teach its students English as a second language.

She has done robotics with teen students, and next year hopes to build gingerbread houses with the youngest children – activities that have been popular with Storm Lake youth attending library events. “You learn quickly that there is a universality among children, no matter where they are,” Huff says.

The sister library relationship was formally established in 2017, a rare, groundbreaking agreement that has captured the attention of the American Library Association. Leaders of that association have attended each Storm Lake-Zapopan meeting to learn how such relationships can be forged. “Other schools and libraries in Mexico have heard about our Sister Library lasting arrangement and want to do the same, but so far there just haven’t been libraries in the U.S. willing to do it,” Huff said. “We have a very good, strong relationship.”

From her Mexico counterparts, Huff said she has learned to appreciate access to quality education that may too often be taken for granted in the U.S. “Education is greatly important to the families with children who attend this school. They make deep sacrifices – and I mean deep – to get their children educated,” she said. “They are also very aware that many of their young people could one day be migrating here.”

(Picture above…Taken on November 28, 2022. From Left to Right: Lessa Kananiopua Pelayo-Lozada, American Library Association President; Elizabeth Huff, Storm Lake Library Director; Mariana Perez, School Librarian at Colegio Salesiano Anahuac Chapalita; Michael Dowling, International Relations, American Library Association)



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