Making Information Available to Multicultural Populations Poses a Dramatic Challenge to Today's Librarians

Release Date: June 13, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The world of librarianship, as librarians themselves well know, has changed dramatically in the past 10 years with the explosion in information technologies dramatically altering the manner in which information is communicated.

At the same time, vast political and economic change and the opening of international borders have promoted the mobility of world populations and increased intra-national cultural heterogeneity.

The result is the need for information providers to serve large multilingual populations from varied cultures within their own borders -- often using technologies that did not exist when they completed their own professional training.

Effective strategies for using information technology to serve multicultural populations will be the focus of a conference for librarians, "Technology, Globalization and Multicultural Services," to be held Aug. 14-16 in the University Inn and Conference Center, 2401 N. Forest Road, Getzville. It will be a pre-conference of the International Federation of Library Associations annual meeting on Aug. 18-25 in Boston, Mass.

The Buffalo conference, to be hosted and supported by the University at Buffalo Libraries and other campus entities, will explore how new technologies and global information networks deliver multicultural services in libraries. Participants will learn how libraries throughout the world have developed initiatives to respond to the challenges posed by the new technologies.

Among the speakers will be distinguished scholar and futurist Derrick de Kerckhove, director of the Marshall McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto and author of "Connected Intelligence: The Arrival of the Web Society" and "The Skin of Culture: Understanding New Electronic Reality."

Another speaker will be Gary Strong, director of the Queens Public Library, the largest circulating library system in the country, serving a population of 2.3 million people from 153 countries who speak 93 different languages. A recognized leader in the development of multicultural library activities, Strong will discuss his library's internationally recognized "New Americans Program" and "WorldLinq," an innovative multilingual Web-based information system.

Jorge Reina Schement, noted researcher in demographics and multiculturalism, will present an address on the social consequences of the production and consumption of information. He is professor of telecommunications at Pennsylvania State University, where he co-directs the Institute for Information Technology. His books include "Tendencies and Tensions of the Information Age" and "Toward an Information Bill of Rights and Responsibilities."

For information and registration call 645-3705 ext. 223 or go to the conference Web site at http://libris.lib.buffalo.edu/iflabuffalo.

Barbara von Wahlde, UB associate vice president for university libraries, notes that the American library system developed in the 19th century to help educate working Americans and to assist the education, assimilation and economic and social advancement of immigrants, including those who elect to retain aspects of their native cultures, including language.

Today, she points out, the Internet and the World Wide Web are increasingly integrated with existing library services in the United States and into related information systems in nations throughout the world.

"This process has raised many issues and concerns, however, about the implementation of information services for our increasingly multicultural, multilingual population," she says.

"As key information providers," von Wahlde says, "librarians need to understand the innovations that can assist them in this task. They need to know, as well, the shortcomings of new technologies for presenting multilingual materials, what plausible solutions may be on the horizon and what they will cost."

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