Literary City: The Sheffield Connection
Every child who grew up reading books on their parents’ knees, and every parent or
grandparent who loves to read a story with the next generation, knows how important it is to
share family storytime. But how do you share books in multilingual families where English is
not the only language spoken?
Dr Sabine Little is a lecturer at the University of Sheffield who researches the important links
between language and identity in multilingual families. She says: “Families in my research were telling me again and again how much it mattered to be able to share books. Reading
together is a family practice, and being able to do so in the language you yourself grew up in can help to establish important links of belonging.”
So, in response to this need, Sheffield Children’s Library has launched a 12 month pilot of a
multilingual children’s section to help the next generation of readers be able to access books
in multiple languages.
Councillor Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure says: “We will see
additional multilingual books in the Central Children’s Library; hundreds of books written in
different languages have been donated by authors, publishers and individuals so it’s a
brilliant time for children’s reading in the city. We hope that this pilot is a great success and
that our young readers have lots of fun reading in different languages.” The multilingual children’s library will be housed in the main Sheffield Children’s Library, which is providing staffing and cataloguing, with the multilingual section being fully integrated into all library processes. A reward scheme is available to children, who can register for a Reading Passport, and gain a certificate for their multilingual reading efforts.
The idea is that the multilingual books will support and complement children learning to read and write in English. Dr Little explains: “We are not arguing that reading in the home language should occur instead of reading in English. There are no clear policies in the UK education system which support multilingualism, so we are hoping to give parents and heritage language schools additional support in encouraging and maintaining their children’s multilingualism.”
The multilingual library was launched on 17 November. The Lord Mayor Magid Magid, who
attended the launch, says: “Sheffield is home to over 150 spoken languages, and the diversity represented in Sheffield’s multilingual children lends strength to the city’s standing in today’s global climate. Helping children to grow up multilingual is not just important in terms of identity and heritage, but also has real economic benefits. It is great to see the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Libraries working together to support and nurture Sheffield’s multilingual families.”