Communicating across cultures

Cultural identity issues and the role of the multicultural, multilingual school library within the school community


  • Dr. Helen Boelens School Library Researcher and Consultant
  • John M. Cherek Jr. Project Manager, Zorgboerderij “De Kweektuin”
  • Dr. Anthony Tilke Head of Library Services & TOK Teacher, United World College of South-East Asia
  • Nadine Bailey United World College of South East Asia (East Campus)



Multi-culturalism, Multi-lingualism, Cultural identity, Global literacy, Languages


The arrival of increasing numbers of refugees and immigrants has caused large increases in multicultural school populations. This interdisciplinary paper describes an ongoing study which began in 2012, discussing the role of the school library in multicultural, multilingual school communities and offering suggestions about how the school library could become a multicultural learning environment. It provides information to help school library staff to look closely at these issues and to provide help and useful suggestions to the entire school community. The prime objective is to help the school community to safely and constructively deal with the dynamics of a multi-cultural society, using the school library as a base. Safe facilitation requires “trained” leaders from the school community. An e-learning program for school librarians is being adapted for this purpose.

Author Biographies

Dr. Helen Boelens, School Library Researcher and Consultant

Helen Boelens (PhD) was awarded a Ph.D. degree by Middlesex University, School of Arts
and Education in 2010. She now focuses her work on the development of and assistance to
hundreds of thousands of school libraries in developing countries. She is the former
coordinator of the Research SIG of the IASL (International Association of School
Librarianship). She is also one of the founders of the ENSIL Foundation (Stitching ENSIL).

John M. Cherek Jr., Project Manager, Zorgboerderij “De Kweektuin”

John Martin Cherek Jr. (MSc) received a Master's in Political Science from the University of
Amsterdam in 2009. His thesis examined the post-reintegration needs of former child soldiers
in Sierra Leone. Before moving to Amsterdam to study at the UvA, John worked Casey Family
Programs. As the largest operating foundation the U.S.A dedicated to improving outcomes for
children in foster care, John developed programs related to life skills education, identity
development and child welfare policy. Originally from the United States, John holds a degree
in Psychology from Seattle University (2004). He works primarily with vulnerable populations
and specializes in education, mental health and youth & child development.

Dr. Anthony Tilke, Head of Library Services & TOK Teacher, United World College of South-East Asia

Anthony Tilke (PhD) has spent nearly 20 years in the international school sector, in Asia and
Europe. His doctoral thesis (from Charles Sturt University, Australia) focused on the impact
of an international school library on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program,
and which subsequently fed into his book about the Diploma and the school library/ian. A
common feature of his work is supporting mother tongue programs in schools, and he has
contributed to an IB document “An IB educator’s story about the role of librarians in
multilingual learning communities”.

Nadine Bailey, United World College of South East Asia (East Campus)

Nadine Bailey (MPhil, MBA, MIS) has lived and worked internationally for 20 years, in Africa,
South America, Europe and Asia. Her area of interest lies in language and identity
particularly related to students educated in a third culture environment. In an increasingly
digitized educational environment she argues that librarians play an important curation and
leadership role in guiding and enabling students to create personal learning networks in and
for their mother tongue language. In that way libraries are both a safe physical and virtual