ESOL Programs in Public Libraries

Public libraries offer a variety of programs for their patrons, from music concerts to DIY programs, and even English classes. Knowing that libraries are places where people seek information and growth, it makes sense that a variety of classes take place in them. This semester I decided to take an internship class to see how other public libraries operate and learn about programs they offer their patrons.

While I was searching for a placement, I knew I really wanted to learn about English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programming and how it’s organized for the public. Librarians (and future librarians!) see that American communities are composed of various ethnic groups. Many patrons come to this country to better themselves and they seek out the library as a place to do so.

Libraries present ESOL programming in different ways. I decided that I wanted to intern at the Port Washington Public Library, since they have one of the largest ESOL programs in the Nassau County (New York) area. I think that the model they present is interesting, and in a way, better structured than others I have seen in libraries. On my first day as an intern, I was introduced to the various tasks that I will be responsible for. The program serves roughly 200 students, who all register and are screened to determine their literacy level. The students are tested with the NYS Place Test, which allows us to get a feel for the students’ English-language knowledge and determine how to place them in a class. The program itself is composed of about forty-five classes which range from beginner to advanced. The program even includes Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) previously known as GED prep classes. Most of the classes take place in the library while others take place on off-site locations.

One aspect I find most interesting about this program is its teachers. The teachers are volunteers who have taken a workshop with the program coordinator, and this prepares them to teach classes. I will have the joy of participating in an intermediate class and get hands-on experience with one of the teachers. These classes utilize what I like to call an “in-house” model, where students come in from Port Washington or neighboring towns. I really look forward to working in the program and learning from all the experienced teachers and librarians.

Other libraries in Nassau Country in Long Island, New York offer ESOL classes through Nassau BOCES and/or Literacy Nassau. BOCES stand for Board of Cooperative Educational Services of Nassau County and it offers classes and workshops for educators and students. Literacy Nassau is an organization that has been operating since 1968, to help students learn how to read, write and speak English. It partners with various library systems in Nassau County. At the Freeport Memorial Library where I work, we have two groups, one is led by BOCES. In this particular group, the students are mixed and meet Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The other group, led by Literacy Nassau, is split into two session, where there are two distinct language levels. Both the Port Washington Public Library and the Freeport Memorial Library also have extensive language learning collections for both patrons and teachers.

These are such a great services for patrons, and this work should somehow be better incorporated into library school classes. For instance, it could fit well in a diversity class, or even in a programming class. It could be taught in a variety of contexts. It’s essential for libraries to host ESL classes for those who can’t speak the language and are eager to learn. This post provides just a glimpse of the libraries that surround me. I’m sure that there are different or similar models across the nation. If there are other ESOL models in your home library or around you, comment below! I’d love to read about them.

4 replies

  1. I am a Literacy Program Specialist for my branch library. I am not a librarian, but I am responsible for outreach of adult literacy services and programs to the community. I really like what you have said about the New York program, and I think we could learn a thing or two!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marvin! Thank you liking my post where do you do your outreach programs if you don’t mind my asking. I’d love to chat and pick your brain about somethings.


      • Certainly! I really love brainstorming with others.

        The community that our branch serves has a heavy demographic of Asian Americans, so I often visit the community centers and talk about programs we have available. In this regard, knowing a second language is indispensable. It may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked!


        • That is amazing!! If I ever have any questions I will definitely reach out! Yes I know what you mean I speak both English and Spanish fluently and it’s such a benefit . Totally helps in delivering the services we offer .


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