8 July 2024
A wooden bookshelf holds an assortment of children’s books. The books are neatly arranged in rows and columns, with colorful covers and spines visible.

My school is bilingual. And my library was too . . . sort of. Thanks to the RAILS My Library Is… Grant money, I can now say with confidence that the library is a bilingual space that serves all of our students.

Brentano Math and Science Academy is a bilingual school. We have many students who speak Spanish as their native language. Most of the teachers speak Spanish, and while we have Spanish language books in classrooms and in the library, I could not say that the library truly was bilingual. We had a couple of half-empty shelves of Spanish books that were dated, dusty, and uninteresting. Almost all of the Spanish nonfiction titles were years (decades, even) beyond accuracy. Week after week, students who read in Spanish came into the library and left empty-handed. 

Brentano operates a volunteer-led library. We have only a small annual budget from the school’s Friends of group. Combined with the pandemic that shut down the library for two and half years, the library’s Spanish section was severely in need of help. When the opportunity for this grant arose, I knew immediately what the project would be: growing and reviving the library’s Spanish collection.

It felt crucial to me that we add Spanish books for the benefit of our students who read in Spanish. I am a library volunteer because I am passionate about reading and helping kids find their next favorite book. It was frustrating to see students leave empty-handed so often. But it also felt equally important to create an equitable space for our students. Our neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, and Latino families are leaving in record numbers. At our school, though, our population of Latino families has not decreased, and I wanted our library to reflect our school’s commitment to being a place that not only welcomes all, but was built with everyone in mind. It wasn’t enough to accept that we had some Spanish books because if students were unwilling to read those books, then they might as well not even be there. 

In researching for the grant application, I learned that 12% of our students speak Spanish as their native language, but only 4% of our library’s books were in Spanish. Thanks to the RAILS My Library Is… Grant, we were able to add more than 300 new titles and bring our collection of Spanish books to 10% of our total inventory! 

Our biggest challenge was sourcing Spanish language titles that were of high interest to our students. Many of the popular English titles were simply not available in Spanish or not affordable to purchase. It was frustrating and disappointing at times. Partnering with a great vendor was key to our success. 51st Ward Books are experts at discovering bilingual, multicultural books that center on social justice. Their team helped us put together a wishlist of outstanding titles. 

Moving forward, we’ve set a goal of acquiring books at an equitable pace so that our collection always reflects the make-up of our student body. Thanks to the RAILS grant, we were able to make a huge leap forward progress, and we’re using that momentum to keep growing. It has been wonderful to see teachers and students alike so excited to peruse the new titles and find their next favorite book.

Today's blog post was written by Allison Hightower, Library Coordinator, Brentano Math and Science Academy Library.

This project was made possible by the My Library Is... Grant.