Libraries Week: Dual-Language Story Walks

In celebration of Libraries Week, Natalie Jones talks to Jacqueline Widdowson of Oldham Libraries about the joy and importance of dual-language story walks…

by Natalie Jones

It is Libraries Week (4-10 October) in the UK, and we are celebrating the nation’s much-loved libraries and the central role that libraries play in their community as a driver for inclusion, sustainability, social mobility and community cohesion. Following the recent challenges and disruption caused by the pandemic, we are taking a moment to reflect on and celebrate the transformative work of libraries to make a lasting impact on their communities and change lives.

Following on from the fantastic World Kid Lit Month celebrating world literature for kids and teens, especially works translated to English from other languages, I caught up with Jacqueline Widdowson, Senior Library Officer at Oldham Libraries, to hear about the impact of their Dual-Language Story Walks – providing a beautiful example of the power of multi-lingual storytelling to build connections and community cohesion. 

Dual-Language Story Walk at Oldham Libraries: introduced by Jacqueline Widdowson 

Like a warm smile, a good story is universal. This was one of the guiding principles behind Oldham Libraries Dual-Language Story Walks. Oldham, in Greater Manchester, was recently awarded Libraries of Sanctuary status. There were many contributing factors as to how this was achieved, but amongst them was an events programme designed to promote community cohesion, by offering enhanced services and activities for refugees and asylum seekers.  The sun was shining when we gathered in Alexandra Park for a Walking in the Jungle Story Walk, but I suspect the little crowd would have gathered even if the elements had been against us. The opportunity to be together, sharing a moment with our families, was about more than just passing some time, it was about belonging. 

As participants gathered around Julie Lacome’s much-loved picture book, there was no mistaking the familiar awed silence of anticipation. But instead of the usually singular storyteller, two orators launched into the same tale – alternating between English and Bangla. The story telling was repeated with another fresh face being introduced, this time a third volunteer librarian reading the adventure in Polish, alongside the English. In this way, a diverse group of Oldham’s newest residents received a welcoming, and educational, story time, from some of Oldham’s more established community members. To further embed the dual-language learning opportunity, the stories were followed by a treasure hunt. The animals encountered in the tale were hiding around the park, waiting for our Early Years audience and their guardians to find them. Each animal picture was annotated in all three relevant languages. 

Oldham borough has a high churn and has welcomed the 13th highest number of asylum seekers in the UK, relative to population. The experience of being displaced from a home is unimaginably hard. Libraries, as community hubs that support people through the best and worst of times, are uniquely placed to bring people together and empower them. A dual-language book speaks to a shared experience, that transcends language boundaries. A multi-lingual event tells everyone that all are welcome. These simple tools help us to achieve great aims, as small acts of kindness and community help to combat loneliness, isolation and general disenfranchisement.  

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We hope readers will find inspiration from this wonderful example of life-changing work at Oldham Libraries. 

You can help us to celebrate the nation’s much-loved libraries and their vital role in supporting active and engaged communities, by taking part in CILIP’s photo campaign to get the nation sharing stories of the change the library has made to their life or how the library has enabled them to make a positive impact on their community.

From health & wellbeing initiatives to combatting social isolation, providing support for vulnerable groups, digital inclusion, and climate action, the library is a place for coming together and taking action. This is an opportunity to display how libraries and individuals are making a difference in their communities and inspire others to take action.

To take part simply share your library photos and stories with the hashtags #ShareTheChange and #LibrariesWeek. Find out more at http://librariesweek.org.uk/share-the-change

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Natalie Jones

Natalie Jones leads CILIP’s Projects and Programmes team, who deliver dynamic and innovative projects to develop best practice and knowledge sharing. She also manages CILIP’s campaigns and awards which includes running the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway children’s book awards and Libraries Week, the annual celebration of the nation’s libraries. She has a keen interest in literacy, diversity and inclusion, and a love for children’s books. When not at work she can often be found with her nose in a book.

Jacqueline Widdowson

Jacqueline Widdowson has been a senior executive of the CILIP Public and Mobile Libraries Group since 2012 and is currently Co-Chair. A vocal advocate for public libraries, her articles on the importance of library services have featured in a diverse range of publications including the Journal of Information Literacy and The Guardian.  A qualified and chartered librarian, Jacquie is Senior Library Officer for Oldham Libraries.