Local Libraries Offer ESL Students a Wealth of Resources

The public library is a wonderful place for our students, but many have yet to discover it. They’re often surprised to hear that using the library is free and open to everyone. National Library Week is April 10 to 16. What better time to encourage students to check it out?

All the area library systems welcome English language learners and offer them a rich array of resources. Students can browse books, magazines, and newspapers and use the library computers to go online. They can borrow books in English, and in some cases in their home languages as well. Most branches have a collection of ESL textbooks, tapes, CDs, and DVDs, and some have English conversation clubs. Students who have young children can take them to storytime in English (and at some branches, in Spanish).

Local public libraries are free and open to everyone. Students are welcome to walk in and explore. Photo by dcJohn.

It’s important to let students know that you don’t need a library card or anything else in order to walk into a public library, sit down and read. In many countries libraries have closed stacks, so the concept of browsing on your own is a new one to some students.

You do need a card to borrow books, and in some cases to use library computers. Getting a card is easy, though. In general, all you need is a piece of identification that shows your name and local address, such as a driver’s license, rent receipt, or utility bill. You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen, and libraries will not ask for immigration documents. The exact requirements for getting a card are spelled out on the website of each local library system. The DC system also has a brochure in Spanish on how to get and use a library card.

Using the computers at MLK Library in downtown DC. Photo by Pedro Layant.

Some students may be reluctant to use the library because they’ve heard about fines. It’s important to stress that borrowing material is free as long as you return it to the library by the due date. Most items can be kept for three weeks, and if you want to keep something longer, you can usually renew it. Late fees, in any case, are minimal—20 to 35 cents a day, and never more than a few dollars total.

Some LETC classes have visited a local library on a field trip and applied for cards. Be sure to call the branch ahead of time if you plan to visit, so they can be prepared to welcome your class. Also prepare your class in advance with a discussion about using libraries and key vocabulary such as library card, borrow, due date, renew, return, late fee, and librarian.

Our local library systems:
DC Public Libraries
Arlington Public Libraries
Montgomery County Public Libraries
Prince George’s County Memorial Library System

The Mt. Pleasant branch library at 16th and Lamont Streets NW is undergoing renovation. While it's closed, the branch is operating out of a storefront on Mt. Pleasant Street. Photo by Mr. T in DC.

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One Response to Local Libraries Offer ESL Students a Wealth of Resources

  1. Ashley Lipps says:

    Check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s Adult Literacy Center: http://www.dclibrary.org/services/adult They have resources for adult learners, including those learning English. They also will hold workshops and have resources for teachers. :)

    Also, many libraries, including the DC public library, will allow you to just show any piece of mail with your local address on it. As soon as I moved here, I brought in a letter from my dad, filled out a form, and was ready to go!

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