Robbin, A. (2000) Hispanic Demographics and Implications for Media Services. In Immroth, B. & K. De La Peña McCook (Eds.), Library services to youth of Hispanic heritage (pp.137-153). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Alice Robbins states close to the beginning of her essay that, “Children’s success…rests on investments that parents and society make in their children. Choices that families make and what happens inside families have a direct effect on whether children use the library.” Robbins goes on to discuss many factors that either help or hurt families, which in turns impacts how often children use libraries.
She begins by presenting information about several poverty indicators. At the time of this essay in 2000, it was clear that Latino children living with both a mother and father experienced lower levels of poverty (29%) whereas children without a father in the home suffered more poverty (67%). Again, in the late eighties the statistics given in this essay showed that nearly 30% of Hispanic children were not covered by health insurance. This percentage may have increased with President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, but it is quite reasonable to assume that many poor immigrant Latino children do not receive the same level of healthcare as other students from wealthier families, and as a result may be less healthy overall. Next, Robbins explores the role of language, literacy and schooling on families and children. Of particular note are statistics showing that Latino children are far less likely to be enrolled in early childhood programs and are less likely to be read to by a family member than White children. Finally, Robbins presents information showing significant drop-out rates among Latino high-schoolers and college students.
In the last section of the essay, Robbins talks about the implications of these harsh realities for librarian professionals. Robbins mentions that one goal of libraries is to “’assist cultural minorities …to become equal participants in society through access to information.’” With this idea at the forefront of the profession, one change that has occurred over the past decades has been a move away from using the library as a “conveyor and preserver of culture” towards a public institution that provides both social services and literacy programs. Robbins initially applauds these efforts, but then suddenly starts to question if they are a wise use of funds and time.
Robbins ends by bashing bilingual education and library efforts to promote home language in order to foster literacy saying point blank, “it hasn’t worked.” She concludes that the secret to stopping the cycle of poverty among Latino families is by their children “staying in school, learning English –and learning it well. It is the only way to achieve economic self-sufficiency.” As a Spanish bilingual teacher-librarian, I see some of the pitfalls of bilingual education quite clearly, but to say that an English-only system is the only possible solution seems naïve. The complexities of learning any language are too great to simply say that all children in the United States should learn only English without regard to their background, home language, or individual needs.