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  • Writer's pictureEllie

Thoughts From a New American Librarian

Enjoy this excerpt from an Association of Library Service to Children blog by Shahnoor Islam, translator for the bilingual English/Bengali editions of Cuddled and Carried and Atoms. Read the full blog here.

An immigrant from Bangladesh finds herself at home in libraries

Shahnoor Islam

New York City, with its towering skyscrapers and endless avenues, is one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world. It is home to 3.1 million immigrants with new Americans arriving each day. Twenty years ago, as a Bangladeshi teen, I was one of those newcomers.

New York City was big and loud and noisy. It took some effort, but I soon learned how to navigate the streets, feel at home on the subway, and explore all that it had it to offer. There was no shortage of things to discover. However, one thing in particular stood out to me—something that most Americans simply take for granted—I was amazed to discover how much my local library offered the community and me.

I spent many hours at the library. The staff was always welcoming, hanging out there did not cost any money, and it was an incredible source for meeting people and learning about local events and resources. I was struggling to feel comfortable reading, writing, and speaking English. The library was a remarkable place for me in an often chaotic and overwhelming world.

My passion for books and community outreach inspired me to continue pushing forward. It came as no surprise that, years later, I chose to pursue a career as a community librarian, a position where I could welcome strangers, excite people about books, share local resources, and shepherd new Americans.

I have now been working in a public library in Queens for 17 years.

I particularly enjoy bilingual children’s books. A bilingual title gives young new Americans and their families the wonderful opportunities for children to read in English while parents read in their native language — and then they can all talk about it. And, it also encourages native English speakers to explore a new language.

One of the fun things about being a librarian is connecting with other groups who promote literacy and a passion for reading. For instance, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York partners with healthcare providers to have them “prescribe” books for children. They also connect the children with local librarians, who help the families sign up for library cards and story times.

Recently, I was offered the chance to translate two children’s books from English to Bengali. Reach Out and Read of Greater NY had collaborated with Platypus Media, a Washington, D.C. publisher, to make some of their books available to children in the New York Bangladeshi community. They needed a Bengali native speaker who was familiar with the local community to assist in the translation. The translations had to be both accurate and meaningful for children. I was thrilled to take on this challenge. This was my first time translating a book from start to finish. It used my skills as a Bengali speaker and as an international language materials cataloger.

I love being a librarian in the most diverse city in this country and hope that I inspire today’s youngsters, no matter what their original language, to love books and treasure their local library.

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