Source: PARSA Community Foundation
A significant challenge that diaspora communities face is accessing and preserving resources in their mother tongue. Faced with a dearth of freely accessible books, audio and video in Persian, a group of Iranian-American community leaders came together over a decade ago to form the Persian Language Advisory Committee of the Sacramento Public Library.
Founded in 1993 by former Sacramento Public Library Librarian Haleh Motiey and chaired by Majid Rahimian, the Committee's members have led this grassroots organization as part of the greater Sacramento Public Library Foundation. According to Ms. Motiey, when the Committee first formed, "There was no place in the Sacramento metropolitan area that provided materials for the public in the Persian language." With more than 8,000 Persian-speaking residents in the region, the Committee prepared a needs assessment and presented a proposal to the library, planting the seeds for what was to become one of the most significant collections of Persian language materials outside of Iran. Today, the Persian Language Collection features over 2,000 titles, 15 magazines and newspapers, 800 CD and videos and 2,500 volumes, including the Encyclopedia Iranica. The expansiveness of this collection can be fully credited to the dedication of the Committee members, who contribute their time, energy and resources pro bono.
The Committee also hosts a Persian Language Speakers Series, organizing presentations from distinguished Iranian scholars, artists, and professionals from around the world. Additionally, they offer Persian language classes, a valuable resource to the greater Sacramento community, with 400 individuals having attended. Ms. Motiey notes that "For many, it's the offering of language courses to Iranian children and English-speaking adults that has enriched their lives." Their involvement is so significant that the Persian Language Advisory Committee has been promoted by the Sacramento Public Library as an example of best practices, encouraging other diaspora communities to follow their model.
According to the Committee's Public Relations Coordinator, Katrina Semmes, they are a grassroots committee that formed on their own initiative, yet have managed to garner widespread awareness for their cause. As a 28-year old Iranian-American, she is inspired by being part of a dedicated movement that is "bringing in the younger generation so we can continue what we're doing and pass on the baton."
Hooshang Tozie and Katrina Semmes
All this has been made possible by the Committee's annual fundraiser, "Persian Night," which has raised more than $400,000 since 1996. The Committee has been so successful that during their 12th annual fundraiser in early September 2008, they sold over 200 tickets, surpassing their goal of 150. Ms. Semmes co-emceed the event with Hooshang Tozie and the event notably reached out beyond the Persian community to include 30% non-Iranian guests, such as the California State Librarian Susan Hildreth, Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, Rancho Cordova Mayor Linda Budge, and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
Ms. Semmes' efforts also included pitching the Committee's fundraiser to News 10, a Sacramento ABC affiliate television station. As a result, the event received television coverage for the first time ever, furthering the Persian Language Advisory Committee's presence in the region.
Thanks to the work of the Committee, the Sacramento Public Library now houses a wealth of freely available resources for the greater Sacramento region served by 27 public libraries. The Committee's dedication towards preserving Persian heritage and embracing the efforts of multiple generations serves as a success story that can be duplicated at many of the other libraries around the country that have Persian collections and members. Says Ms. Semmes, "I feel especially comfortable with the Committee - and I sit on five Boards. I love all of them, but the Persian Language Advisory Committee really feels like a family to me."
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