Ivy Li has never heard of a program like this before.
Li, a junior biological sciences major, says she is well acquainted with her hometown library, attending the arts and crafts programs and weekly movie nights. But, she says, she has never heard of anything like this.
This is the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Blind Date with an International Book program, where readers are set up on a “blind date” with a random non-English book. With 27 languages and dozens of genres to choose from, the program pairs readers with unexpected and rewarding reads. Although the program ran from Feb. 10-28, readers can still get their new fling by contacting the library directly.
“It’s nice in the sense of just doing normal things,” Li said.
Robert Mcmanus, a junior computer science major, is taking FR 343: Advanced Communication for Students of French, and says he appreciates the program for its ingenuity.
“Worst case scenario is, it’s a book not to your taste,” Mcmanus said. “French books are pretty expensive to buy in America.”
Expenses and availability are factors to consider when buying non-English literature, which sometimes gives students pause. From Mcmanus’ perspective, language classes at UB often showcase older literature and media, and the program offers something new.
“I think it’s a lot of good opportunities for practice,” Mcmanus said.
Li was excited about the program, but she expressed concern over its environmental impact, because of the plastics involved in shipping. But she was reassured when she heard that the books are picked up from the library, rather than shipped.
She says the program is a “good opportunity” not only to learn a new language, but to read something different. She says reading one of the books in this “blind date” program could help UB language students make “a slow progression to maybe a harder book.”
Kuniko Simon, a 2009 UB graduate and information services and outreach librarian for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, is the first to lead this program during the pandemic. She says COVID-19 has given her the opportunity to focus on the less social aspects of her job.
Simon was born and raised in Japan, so she understands the disconnect some participants feel with their native language. Being able to enjoy the light-hearted aspects of this program while sharing heartfelt communication over reacquiring languages is a point of emphasis for Simon. She says there are many people who want to speak their native language but don’t have the proper resources.
UB has more than 6,500 international students, even as international admissions decreased for the fourth consecutive year. COVID-19 means that many foreign-born students don’t have the opportunity to return to their home countries; that void presents a unique opportunity for the library system.
Simon says the International Book program allows her to connect with people from all over the world.
“It’s kind of an interesting story that I pick up the telephone call and they like to share with me their language acquisition stories and migration stories,” Simon said.
One of the program’s participants, a mother who attends language courses at UB, had a lengthy conversation with Simon over the phone.
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Audubon Branch is just a four-minute drive from North Campus; the Kenilworth Branch is a five-minute drive from South Campus.
College students often don’t get to read books for fun, so being handed one purely for entertainment is an exciting proposition for many. The challenge of reading in a foreign language is an added incentive for most.
“Given a book to read, it takes some of the choices off my shoulders,” Mcmanus said.
Mcmanus says he believes the UB Libraries could try a similar program to engage students.
“I think the Libraries should do a little bit more to lure students in,” Mcmanus said. “[The UB Libraries is] more than just a ‘quiet space.’”
The International Book program may have officially ended on Feb. 28, but students can still make requests for the foreseeable future. The library system still has more than two hundred flicks available for dating. Readers can get one of these books by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (716) 858-8900.
The arts desk can be reached at email@example.com