The Vietnamese Services to the South Belt Community program (known as "The Vietnamese Program") at the Parker Williams Branch Library was visited on January 4, 2002. Interviews were conducted with the branch library director, the Adult Materials Selection librarian who puts together lists of materials for the branches and is responsible for the foreign language collections, the Community Services Assistant who provided services under the Special Projects Grant, and several participants in the program.

1. Background

Parker Williams Branch Library is located in southeast Harris County (South Belt). The library's service area extends into the City of Houston on the north and unincorporated Harris County on the south. According to the 1990 census, the library's area of service has about 48,000 people. The population in the library's service area is 75 percent White, 14 percent Hispanic, nine percent African American, and about nine percent Asian American. Nearer the library there is a concentration of Asian Americans. About 85 percent of the library's area of service lies within the Pasadena Independent School District (ISD) and 15 percent is within the Clear Creek ISD. More than 10 percent of the student population in the two school districts in 1998 was Vietnamese. In fact, 19 percent of the Burnett Elementary School, located within one mile from the library, were Asian American.

Less than one-half of the Pasadena ISD graduates attend college; 54 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The Memorial Southeast Hospital and San Jacinto College South campus are the major employers. Many businesses around the library advertise their services in Vietnamese. The area surrounding the library has a large and growing Vietnamese population. According to a recent study by the Office of Planning and Evaluation at San Jacinto College District Office, the Asian American population within a five-mile radius grew from 8,117 in 1990 to 13,886 in 1998.

The Parker Williams Branch Library has about 70,000 books, a considerable video collection, and a circulation of 15,000 to 22,000 a month.. It has an ethnically diverse (including three persons of Vietnamese origin) staff of 14: nine are full-time and five are part-time. . The library has 19 public workstations with Internet access and plans to add fifteen more. Patrons have to sign up for 30-minute sessions on the workstations. Area high school students are the most avid users of the workstations, making the library a central meeting place. The library has automated catalog and circulation systems. Most of the library's technology is recent, being acquired in the past two or three years. "The library has made giant leaps in technology in the past three years," according to the librarian.

Prior to receiving the Special Project Grant, the Parker Williams Branch Library provided several services to the Vietnamese community. These included an ESL program and a collection of Vietnamese language materials: 1,657 adult titles and 213 juvenile titles. The ESL program had 60 students, one-half of whom were Vietnamese. During 1999, an adult Vietnamese fiction book circulated on average 11 times; in 2000 the circulation increased to 13 times, on average. The high circulation, library staff believe, represents an increasing demand for Vietnamese language materials.

2. The Special Projects Grant

The Harris County Public Library's Marketing Department assisted the Parker Williams Branch Library in preparing grant applications. The library applied for the grant because it wanted to purchase more Vietnamese books, especially for children, to meet the high demand for Vietnamese language materials in the community.

The Special Project Grant began in September 1999. The objective of the Parker Williams Branch Library Special Project Grant was to allocate more resources toward Vietnamese-speaking residents in the library's area with limited proficiency in English. The library proposed in the grant application to hire a Community Services Assistant who is bilingual in English and Vietnamese. The role of the Community Services Assistant was to present preschool story times in Vietnamese on a weekly basis and introduce to the parents the value of books and the library for young children. In conjunction with these activities, the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services gave Citizenship classes four times during the year in the library's meeting room. These classes also provide an opportunity to enroll participants in the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The grant was also to allow the library to expand its collection of Vietnamese language materials by adding 1,500 more titles.

The Parker Williams Branch Library had the Special Projects Grant for two years, from September 1999 through August 2001. The grant the library received was originally a one-year grant but Parker Williams applied and received funding for a second year. Year 1 of the grant was $25,000 and Year 2 was $30,000.

3. Year 1 of Grant

During the first year of the grant, the library hired a Community Services Assistant who is bilingual in Vietnamese and English and offered a story time for children. This activity was developed as a result of a survey that the Community Services Assistant conducted at the start of the grant. The Alliance for Multicultural Community Services provided the Citizenship programs for adults (free of charge) and Test and Interview Preparation (TIPS) programs. The Alliance had difficulty in finding an appropriate location for their program and was excited to operate in the library. The program consisted of two and three hour sessions for 20 adults on Saturday for a period of five to seven weeks, and when 30 people showed up for the program, the class was split into two. Classes were offered in English and Vietnamese, as the primary goal of the Alliance was to reach the refugees.

The library also offered a Parenting Workshop, with an additional objective of bringing parents into the library. The workshops drew 25 to 30 parents each session. The library offered two Parenting Workshops during Year 1 of the grant. The first parenting workshop focused on new Vietnamese immigrants and addressed the conflict between two generations: parents and children. The second workshop focused on how to help children succeed (become high achievers) in school and how to maintain a happy and healthy family environment. As part of the workshop, the parents were encouraged to come to the library for other activities and use the library's video collection. Through these activities, Parker Williams Branch Library blended the grant activities with other library activities.

The Community Services Assistant, who is of Vietnamese origin and is well connected in the Vietnamese community, developed the publicity campaign for the programs. The library placed ads on two Vietnamese radio stations and published press releases and articles in Vietnamese and English local newspapers. The community services assistant also prepared flyers in Vietnamese and English and placed those in the Asian market, in doctors' offices, at the Vietnamese church, at a Buddhist temple, in local restaurants, and in other Vietnamese businesses in the area. The Community Services Assistant also made telephone calls to those registered for the programs, reminding them to attend.

As a result of these activities, the library has become the center for Vietnamese materials in the Harris County Library System. The system is open to all individuals, regardless of their county of residence. As the Parker Williams Branch Library is close to a county line, people come from other counties to use the library.

The story time program was repositioned during the first year of the grant to "learning time," on parents' request. Parents wanted their children to learn Vietnamese and the stories are read in Vietnamese.

4. Year 2 of the Grant

In the second year of the grant, Parker Williams continued with the four activities from Year 1 and added Mother Goose Asks "Why?" The activities the Vietnamese program presented in the second year of the grant included:

  • Vietnamese Story and Learning Time: a one-hour session every Saturday afternoon.
  • Citizenship classes that were presented in English and Vietnamese, on specific Saturdays in five sessions, three hours each.
  • English as a second language classes.
  • Parenting program for adults.
  • The Mother Goose Asks "Why?" program.

The Mother Goose Asks "Why?" program (from Vermont Center for the Book) was advertised as a "series of workshops for Vietnamese parents introducing science through great children's literature." The program "uses children's literature to promote reading, discovery and learning in science through everyday activities.and shows parents how to guide their children to learn." The Mother Goose Asks "Why?" is a four-week program that meets one evening a week for two hours at a time. The program met during July and August 2001. Each session had 21 participants. Each participant received a set of Mother Goose Asks "Why?" books. The program drew Vietnamese parents from a large area - some came from 25 to 30 miles away. The Community Services Assistant explained to parents why it was important for them to be able to teach their children and led them through the discovery approach to learning. The Mother Goose Asks "Why?" books are in English but the teaching was done in Vietnamese. The Community Services Assistant translated all the books into Vietnamese. According to the librarian, the Mother Goose Asks "Why?" program "changed the minds of those attending from being skeptical to praising the new and innovative way of teaching children." Twenty-one parents completed the class. The library purchased kits from the Vermont Center for the Book and gave the kits (activity guides) as well as the books to the parents who completed the program.

During the second year of the grant, the Community Services Assistant presented a weekly story time/learning time during 24 Saturdays from March through August 2001. Each story/learning time session included a story, a lesson in Vietnamese, activities such as singing, dancing or playing games, and a craft. On average, 23 children and 10 adults attended each session of the program. Forty-six children received library cards for the first time, as a result of this program. The Community Services Assistant created a theme for each story time/learning time session and selected the appropriate books to read each week. She prepared a learning activity and craft to coincide with the books. She designed a flyer for each session and posted it together with the craft on the bulletin board next to the Vietnamese collection.

The Alliance presented two citizenship classes from April to June 2001. These sessions were attended, on average, by 17 participants. The Alliance offered a Test and Interview Preparation (TIP) class in March and July-August 2001. On average, 32 people participated in the March class but only four in the July-August class. The low attendance in July-August was attributed to the flood that damaged homes and businesses.

The Special Projects Grant allowed the library to purchase $25,000 of Vietnamese materials over the two years of the grant. In 2000-01, the second year of the grant, the library purchased 684 new titles in January 2001: 534 were adult titles and 150 were juvenile titles. In addition to 178 new Vietnamese titles previously purchased, this brought the number of books purchased to 862.

5. Activities Following Grant Completion

Since the grant ended, the Parker Williams Branch Library continued the programs and added an elementary school story time program and a Vietnamese history and language program for children. The Community Services Assistant position was upgraded from 20 hours per week the first year of the grant to 25 hours per week the second year. When the grant year was completed, the Harris County Public Library made the position full-time with benefits.

The Community Services Assistant surveys the parents periodically, asking for suggestions on how to improve the programs. The parents "want the library to be a school."

Most parents have been very pleased with the services the library offered through the grant and subsequent to it. Parents considered the Vietnamese language programs for the children that the library offers to be superior to the program that local churches offer.

Area residents who participated in the Citizenship program were appreciative of the opportunity of becoming American citizens. In appreciation of the programs the library was offering, parents bowed to the librarian after the first Parenting workshops. Attendance in all the programs has been high and participants keep coming back.

As a result of the programs funded through the Special Projects Grant, the community, according to the librarian, is more aware of the library. The library has truly become part of the community.

Many Vietnamese parents attend the ESL classes. Some have even become tutors. They bring their children to the Summer Reading program and to other library events. Each month the library has issued 20 to 30 new library cards to Vietnamese patrons.

The library's ESL program has 45 volunteer tutors. The program offers English language classes to people from 18 countries. The library has classrooms set aside for this program. The library offers 20 to 30 classes a week. Each class has between three and four students, for a total of 187 students. Although a local community college offers English classes, many community members prefer the classes the library offers. The library staff struggled with how to assign people to the different classes. The literacy coordinator of the Harris County Library System helped the library staff with the assignments. The library is getting a teacher for the program from Literacy AmeriCorps. The Vietnamese community is well aware of the program.

The programs funded through the Special Projects Grant "changed the face of the library," according to the librarian. The grant increased the diversity of the patron base, bringing in people the library did not serve before. These people became involved in a range of library activities, not just in the Vietnamese program. The grant, according to the librarian,

  • � Increased the literacy rate in the community.
  • Increased the English proficiency of community members.
  • Increased the number of preschool children exposed to reading.
  • Increased recognition on the part of parents of preschool children of the importance of reading.
  • Increased the number of library patrons.
  • Recruited new groups of patrons.

The fact that the branch library has an ethnically diverse staff, including three Vietnamese persons, has helped bring more Vietnamese residents into the library.

The library has had difficulty in finding Vietnamese materials. Library patrons check out between 2,000 and 3,000 Vietnamese books a month from this branch library.

In a letter dated August 1, 2001, 20 participants in the Vietnamese Program, wrote to the branch librarian:

Most people only write when they want to vent their complaints and frustration, but very few would take the time to write and offer their appreciation and compliments.

The purpose of this letter is to thank and congratulate the Community Services Assistant (name) and you for the wonderful four weeks of the Mother Goose Asks "Why?" program that Parker Williams Library has offered to us.

We thoroughly enjoyed the workshops, and found them very interesting, stimulating and useful for all of us, parents. Now we feel more confident in guiding and motivating our children to learn and to live Sciences. We also would like to personally thank the Community Services Assistant (name) for the hard work in preparing and organizing these sessions. We're very impressed with the quality of the workshops, and we learned a lot from them.

We are certain that we shall greatly benefit from your continued support in the future programs offered at your branch library. Once again, may we reiterate our sincere thanks for your leadership.

Two parents and several children who participated in a patrons' interview session echoed the gratitude expressed in the letter. They expressed their satisfaction with the programs, including the Mother Goose Asks "Why?" the story/learning time program, the summer reading program, and the more recent Vietnamese language and history program. One of the parents indicated that finding science and math facts in regular stories and using these for teaching was a revelation. One of the parents who is new in the area heard about the program from a relative. The parent commutes to the library with her children because the library close to her home does not have such a program. The second parent came to the Summer Reading program and found out about the Vietnamese programs. The parent appreciated the Community Services Assistant's ability to work with children at different levels. One of the parents observed: "We utilize this library a lot; we come twice a week to the library. The Vietnamese language program is the best; it really allows the children to pick up the language. My children learn more Vietnamese in the program than from me. It lets my children to communicate with their grandparents and have a better understanding of Vietnamese culture."

Part Three | Part Three, Section Three

Page last modified: March 2, 2011