When Ted McCann started as the librarian at Garfield Elementary School in Corvallis in 2014, the school had a single bookcase and one additional shelf of books in Spanish.
Since then, he’s managed to increase the Spanish book collection to the point where it takes up two of the library’s 15 bookcases.
There's still room for improvement, though: As a dual Spanish and English immersion school, McCann said, the ratio of English and Spanish books in Garfield’s library should ideally be about half and half.
“We ask kids in second through fifth grade to check out one English and one Spanish book,” he said. “That’s a challenge when you’ve got 200 kids fighting over the same six copies of 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.'”
But Garfield and Corvallis School District’s three other dual immersion schools will collectively be adding hundreds of new Spanish language books to their libraries thanks to a Corvallis Public Schools Foundation grant that paid for McCann to travel to the Guadalajara International Book Fair in late November to purchase books.
“Very simply, to have a successful dual immersion program, you need to have these materials," he said.
The foundation awarded $11,000 to McCann to travel to the fair and purchase books. To maximize the amount of money available to buy books, McCann, who grew up in Guadalajara, stayed at his parents' house during the trip.
Organizers of the book fair said on their website over 2,200 publishers and more than 800,000 people attended the nine-day event, which started Nov. 24.
McCann said purchasing authentic Spanish-language books is a challenge in the United States for a variety of reasons. For starters, many Spanish-language kids' books that are available in the United States were originally written in English and translated into Spanish. Some books are difficult to import because the publisher may not have the rights to publish them in the United States. And some Spanish-language books are so rare in the United States that they can cost 10 times the price of the same book in English.
McCann said he was looking specifically for books that were originally written in Spanish because they are more authentic.
“One of the movements in books and libraries now is to have books that represent the communities they serve,” he said.
McCann was in Mexico for seven days and he was in a group with other librarians from the United States hearing presentations from publishers the whole trip.
McCann said he bought around 20 books with his own money to bring home in his luggage for the schools, and he’s working with an importer to bring in the rest of the books he found. He doesn’t have an exact count on how many books it is, he said, but it's in the hundreds.
However, he said, when the books arrive it may still take some time to get them on school shelves: It will be a laborious process to enter them into the district's catalog, because the information for many of them cannot be easily downloaded from international databases.
The first books should start to trickle into libraries in about three months, he said, and he hopes they are all on shelves in about a year.
McCann said having few options for books in Spanish in school libraries sends a message to kids about which language is dominant in the United States.
But adding more Spanish books, he said, shows students at the dual immersion schools how valuable it is to be bilingual.
“We want to get every kid excited about being dual language,” he said.
McCann said he’s most excited to be bringing in graphic novels, which are popular with kids now and liked even by many reluctant readers.
McCann added that he hopes to be able to attend the book fair, if not every year, then every couple of years or so to keep building up the district’s collection.
Liv Gifford, the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation’s executive director, said the foundation initially committed $5,000 to the project, and then went out to the community looking for additional donations for the effort. Parents at the dual immersion schools, she said, were largely responsible for raising the other $6,000.