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Culture

Duisburg's multilingual, intercultural library

Intercultural libraries aim to help immigrants adapt to life in Germany. The library in Duisburg offers children a wide range of multilingual media, which other interested groups can also use.

Seven-year old Nebi proudly carries his catch to the library's checkout counter - a German book about ships and a Turkish one about the adventures of the Anatolian boy Keloglan. "He's funny," says Nebi. "And he doesn't even have hair." His father, Hüseyin Coktas, laughs. "The bald-headed Keloglan was also a hero for me during my childhood," he says.

Every Sunday, Hüseyin Coktas comes to the Duisburg City Library with both of his children. Like many of the city's residents, the Coktas family is Turkish. For Hüseyin, it's important that his children understand the differences between the German and Turkish cultures. That includes CDs with Turkish children's songs, and when the children watch movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, they watch them in Turkish.

Many immigrants live in Duisburg

With its intercultural library, the City of Duisburg reaches out to immigrants to help them find their way around Germany's information and knowledge-based society. But not only children and their parents take advantage of the library's multilingual media. Kindergarten teachers, who have immigrant children in their classrooms, also use the library's resources for early childhood education; for instance, for explaining the difference between the Christian Easter and the Muslim Eid-ul-Fitr (Festival of Fast Breaking). Schools, too, check out books from the library's foreign-language department.

Young girl reading

Some children want to improve their grades by reading foreign languages

Duisburg is a city markedly shaped by industry. Since the 1960s, local coal mining and steel manufacturing companies have recruited workers from Southern and Eastern Europe as well as Turkey. Today, about one third of the city's 500,000 residents have an immigrant background. Since 1974, the City Library has been sending a converted bus full of multilingual media to tour city districts. In 2011, it opened its International Children's Library within the main library.

Yilmaz Holtz-Ersahin is in charge of this department, which encompasses 2,000 media. Children's literature in Arabic is currently the most popular. "I would like to purchase much more of that," says Holtz-Ersahin. "But there aren't many bilingual books in this area, and you have to be very careful about the content of the others." Holtz-Ersahin would also like to buy books in Albanian and Romanian, since the number of families from both of these countries is growing.

Not only can children borrow books, movies and CDs; the library also offers them bilingual story hours and theater performances. "These are primarily aimed at Turkish, Greek and French children and their parents," says Holtz-Ersahin. "But often older library visitors take part because they're interested in the language and want to listen to the stories."

Better school grades

Yilmaz Holtz-Ersahin

Yilmaz Holtz-Ersahin heads the international deparment

The head of the international department is keen to bring together people of different cultures. And he has been so successful in doing so, in fact, that UNESCO has included the Duisburg City Library in its kaleidoscope for preserving and promoting cultural diversity. The kaleidoscope contains, in particular, exemplary projects from various areas of social life in numerous countries. And that is what makes the Duisburg City Library something special in Germany.

Ten-year-old Charlotte, together with her two girlfriends, is sitting comfortably on a sofa between the book shelves. "My father once gave me a book in English about vampires," she says. Since then, she comes regularly to the library to browse through the children's English-language children's literature. Reading in English has had a positive influence on her school grades. Eleven-year-old Laura hopes to do the same in another language. "I have Latin," she says. "I'm looking for a book in Latin because my grade isn't so good, and when I find one, then it will improve."

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