Tag Archives: Changing Demographics

Assessment of Multilingual Collections in Public Libraries: A Case Study of the Toronto Public Library by Valentina Ly

Reviewed By: Rebecca Ebert, Isaiah Espinoza, Katherine Hartrich, Ari Katz, Tiffany Rondon Roman

Link to article: https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/eblip/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/29408/21917

Assessment of Multilingual Collections in Public Libraries: A Case Study of the Toronto Public Library by Valentina Ly

Article Synopsis:

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has a large multilingual (ML) collection that is recognized for its diversity and has become highly lauded as an example to other libraries. The article examines the collection to determine if it is representative of the diverse population of Canada by using data collected from the online public access catalogue (Ly, 2018, p. 17). Besides English and French, Ly examines data from the collection’s top 17 non-official languages. Further data was gathering from the Statistics Canada 2016 Census. The results find that collection is not proportional to the population and considers why, the limitations of the study, and the unlikelihood of a public library building a collection that represents the diverse community. The TPL continues its efforts to represent the community through its ML collection by examining demographic shifts, assessment trends and employing a staff that speaks 34 of the 40 active languages in the collection (p. 28). Libraries from all regions can relate to the TPL’s struggle of building a collection in hopes of better serving the community that speaks the language of the majority and minority. Through networking with other libraries can they share their expertise and knowledge.

Based on Ly’s research, the following are a few core research questions:

How can libraries use census data to monitor population shifts and be responsive to the changing information needs of their communities?
How can large library systems make their collections proportional to the languages spoken within the community?
How can librarians improve relationships linguistic minority populations?
How can smaller libraries learn to develop multilingual collections, resources, and services?
How can libraries best stay aware of the changing demographics of their communities due to migration and globalization?
Is the size of each language collection equitable to the size of the minority language populations?
How many different language collections should be available at the library?
How many items should be available in each language collection?
What are the best formats for the materials based on the preferences of the minority language populations?
How can librarians build their multilingual collections and gather knowledge of other languages?

Methods used to answer the research questions:

In order to answer the research questions, the researchers used a range of data collected from: Statistics Canada 2016 Census of Population (language results), along with the data collected from their online public access catalogue in November 2017. From the latter, they collected all possible data from the available languages, studying more in-depth English, French and 17 more most spoken mother tongues. To compare these, they did the following: aligned the Toronto census division map with the TPL branch map and locations to make sure they were within the same geography divisions to confirm the census divisions were relevant to the TPL system. Then, they compared the data from the census with their own public access catalogue regarding the “mother tongue” and “language spoken most often at home” finding that these were the languages found both at TPL and OPAC (online public access catalogue) as most searched and advertised. In other words, they studied the geography boundaries of said population that spoke those languages according to the data; and also analyzed the languages that were usually more used, searched and advertised at TPL and OPAC.

Findings and conclusions:

The results of Ly’s (2018) case study found that TPL has a collection of items in 307 languages, yet most of these items were in the official languages of French and English. Although TPL collected for many languages, there were actually few items for these unofficial languages. Of the official languages, French was by far the best represented followed by English. Of the unofficial languages, Polish had the best representation of items and Tagalog the worst. Based on the 2016 census, this demonstrates that the TPL multilingual collection is disproportionate in representing Toronto’s population. This is critical as Toronto is Canada’s largest and most multicultural/multilingual city and twice as many immigrants use the TPL than Canadian-born patrons. Although the TPL has attempted to meet the multilingual needs of its immigrant population, their multilingual collection still falls short proportionally to the number and diversity of languages in the city. Ly (2018) recommends the TPL and other libraries apply census data to more accurately build a multilingual collection that better represents their diverse immigrants.

What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations:

Ly’s use of data to inform analysis of the multilingual collection at TPL is a useful starting point for libraries seeking to understand how well their collection serves immigrants in their communities. However, the publication is also a reminder that quantitative analysis is never enough on its own to determine policy. While Ly compares the raw collection size in each language to census figures for speakers of each minority language, she never queries her initial assumption that these numbers should correlate. It would be important to start such a collection analysis with the question, do immigrant speakers of other languages want native language materials, and if so, what kind? It is possible that immigrants that come to a country would be more interested in borrowing local language materials so as to practice their language skills or read about local topics? Minority language interests may be limited to certain topics, rather than the full spectrum of English materials. In some languages, Tagalog for example, native speakers might rarely read that language. So while Ly demonstrates how to apply census data as part of a collection analysis, her article does connect the data to the actual needs of immigrant communities. Any library seeking to conduct such an analysis could start with Ly’s model, but must then also explore different groups’ reading habits and expectations.


Ly, V. (2018). Assessment of Multilingual Collections in Public Libraries: A Case Study of the Toronto Public Library. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 13(3), 17-31.