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Queens Public Library to offer live phone interpretation service in more than 200 languages

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Queens Public Library (Photo courtesy of QPL)

Queens Public Library (QPL) on Dec. 5 announced each of its locations will now be offering live phone interpreting services in over 240 languages to help ensure more people have greater access to the library’s collections, programs and services.

“Offering live, on-demand interpretation services by phone in one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world builds on our longstanding commitment to serving all New Yorkers, whatever languages they speak,” Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott said. “Our goal is to ensure that every person coming through our doors receives the assistance they need to be successful in their lives, and the introduction of Language Line, with interpretation in more than 240 languages, removes a significant barrier.”

Each location will have a phone with two handsets equipped at the reference or circulation desks. There, customers will be able to identify their language from a chart and have a three-way communication with a library staff and an interpreter.

The Queens Public Library first began testing the Language Line service four months ago. Librarians at numerous locations across the borough were able to assist customers speaking Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Arabic, Pashto, Russian and Urdu, among other languages.

“Residents of Queens speak over 190 languages and with the introduction of Language Line at all of our locations, our customers can now receive assistance in their preferred language with just a phone call from a staff member to a live interpreter,” said Fred Gitner, assistant director of new initiatives and partnership liaison at the QPL’s New Americans Program. “Now, we can truly say that at Queens Public Library, we speak your language!”

The 2020 census identified half of the population of Queens was born outside of the United States. Additionally, more than 28% of the borough’s population have limited English proficiency. Those residents often need additional assistance as they try to build a life in the United States while navigating the complex systems of housing, education, healthcare, employment and more.

In 2019, Queens Public Library launched its “Renewed Promise to the Public,” a long-term initiative to honor and serve the diversity of its customers and communities. It was then that they also adopted a new tagline – “We Speak Your Language.” While taken figuratively, it also means they understand their customers, want to be there for them and will help them get where they want to go, whatever their interests, needs or circumstances.

In order to help bridge the language gap and provide immigrant customers with high-quality service, each location received tablets dedicated to Google Translate so staff could have conversations in multiple languages with customers. Travis translation devices were also introduced at each site, which can translate speech into another language and speak it back.

The library had been planning to introduce access to Language Line since 2020. This new service offers telephone interpretation via an 800 number, especially useful for lesser-known languages. But the pandemic put a two-year pause on the rollout.

The library’s IT team is currently in the process of installing an upgrade to the Queens Public Library mobile app that translates its content into 96 languages through a dropdown menu, allowing people greater access to resources when they are on the go. This new feature is currently available in Android and will soon be available in iOS, too.

More information about Queens Public Library’s programs and services for immigrants offered in multiple languages can be found at queenslibrary.org.

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