Reflections on multilingualism in society


Regardless of the causes for the movement of people from one country to another during the past few decades, there have been hundreds of thousands of foreigners residing in every European country.  As a result, every European or Nordic country has become a multilingual society with increasing demand for access to books in foreign languages. The multilingual aspect of European societies encourages native Europeans as well as their new countrymen to learn new languages in order to see the world from another perspective and get to know others cultures and literature.

As an individual and a librarian in Norway, I would like to share my experiences of multilingualism. As an individual, I am originally from the Khuzestan province in southwest Iran in a neighborhood that people spoke mostly Persian and Arabic, but also Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian.  At my primary school, I became familiar with the difficulty the schoolchildren with other mother tongue than Persian had with learning Persian, which is the official educational language in Iran. However, my interaction with the schoolchildren with other mother tongues than Persian gave me the opportunity to get to know other languages than Persian.

As a librarian for multilingual collection, I have noticed the need of library users for reading materials and their enthusiasm toward books, films and music in different languages, which encouraged me to serve them earnestly and follow their intellectual needs.

I would like to mention that Oslo Public Library played a significant role in the integration of immigrants to Norway since the late 1960s. The first immigrants to Norway who came from Pakistan could use the Urdu book collection provided by Oslo Public Library in the early 1970s. Ever since, the book, film and music collections of Oslo Public Library expanded in accordance with the increase of the immigrants residing in Norway.

In 1983, Oslo Public Library (Deichmanske bibliotek) established a section for literature for immigrants. Later in 1996, the section’s name was changed to The Multilingual Library.

Every language is the source of stories, knowledge and insight. The consequence of the loss of every language is poverty in human culture and civilization and our digital world lead the young people to forget this obvious fact. To remind young people of the value of preserving different languages as various sources of knowledge is not an easy task. Libraries with multilingual collections are the most relevant places in which people from different cultures and language get to know their cultural heritages and transmit them to the next generation. Libraries are the main places, which distribute equally knowledge between people from different classes, cultures and backgrounds, thus alpha and omega of every democracy.

In addition to being a place for lending books, libraries are good meeting places for people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Our recently transferred book and film collection to National Library of Norway includes 69 foreign languages.

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Giti Nassouri is a librarian at the National Library of Norway. For many years, she has worked at the section for multilingual library at Oslo public library (Deichmanske Bibliotek). There she was in charge of Bengali, Hindi, Panjabi, Dutch, Greek, Dari, Pashto, Persian and Urdu book collections, which has been transferred to the National Library of Norway.


Photo: Stewart Butterfield (CC BY 2.0).

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