Building Empathy: ELL

A team of librarians working in the Chicago Public Libraries Literature and Language section explored how they might better assist patrons who wanted to learn English. They interviewed patrons, language tutors and most importantly, they found a powerful way to gain empathy for their users. After learning that non-English speakers might be hesitant to ask for help because they did not feel confident in their language skills, the team wondered what it might feel like to search without asking questions. To simulate that experience they went to a local Korean grocery store with a list of items to purchase, written in Korean — a language none of them were able to speak or read. They did not ask anyone for assistance so that they could understand what it feels like to search on your own in an unfamiliar language. They learned that relying on signage was critical for guidance. As a result, they reorganized their entire English Language Learners section and created clear signage in both English and the languages of the patrons. In addition to illustrating empathy building, this is also a good example of an analogous immersive experience. 

Story by Diane Marshbank