This article explores the information desk of a city library as a site for language learning. Using a linguistic ethnographic approach, the interactions between a customer experience and information assistant and the many library users who approach her information desk were analysed. Findings are that, in addition to providing information about library resources, information desks are sites at which bits and pieces of different languages are taught and learned. Such language teaching and learning episodes created interactions of inclusion and welcome that went far beyond purely transactional information. Rather, language-related episodes created moments of human contact and engagement, which were upheld through the translanguaging practices of interactants, the disposition and workplace competence of library staff, and the spatial ecology of the information desk. Furthermore, the article contributes to ongoing theoretical debates about translanguaging by noting that normativity and pressure towards uniformity are as much a part of languaging processes as creativity and flexibility. Our definition of translanguaging recognizes the opposing pull of centrifugal and centripetal forces (Bakhtin, 1981). The article ends by asking what schools, and language education, might learn from public libraries in creating arenas that maintain communitarianism, diversity of expression, and the development of civic skills.
Angela Creese is Professor of Linguistic Ethnography in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling. She started her career as a research assistant working on others' funded projects. This trajectory has created a commitment to collaborative research, particularly in large, diverse, interdisciplinary research teams. She has led and contributed to 10 plus research council grants, including the most recent on translanguaging in contexts of linguistic and social diversity. Her research interests are in sociolinguistics, language policy/planning and interaction in everyday life. She has co-written on linguistic ethnography (with Fiona Copland 2014), and multilingualism (with Adrian Blackledge, 2010). She has edited several large handbook collections on superdiversity (with Blackledge 2017), multilingualism (with Martin-Jones and Blackledge) and heteroglossia (with Blackledge, 2010). She has also published on collaborative teaching in linguistically diverse classrooms (2008). She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Science. In 2010 she received the Helen C Bailey Award (Alumni) for ‘Outstanding contribution to educational linguistics’, from University of Pennsylvania.