The power of language

For Glenna Westwood (BA '84), proclaiming the University of Lethbridge as a culturally diverse campus is literally, just lip service.

By initiating the establishment of foreign language conversation groups, Westwood is helping to foster relationships at the most basic of levels – communication.

"It's not just an opportunity for students to learn and to help them with their studies, it's community-building, a good social exercise as well," says Westwood, the library's Fine Arts librarian and modern languages buff.

The project invites students, staff and faculty to meet in the library on a weekly basis to simply converse in either French or Spanish. When it debuted last fall, a Japanese component was also included.

"We're here not to just support students who are writing a research paper for their professor," says Westwood about her role as a professional librarian. "They have other learning needs and goals and I've always tried to anticipate what those needs might be and then fulfill them.
"I try to ask myself, what can we do for students apart from providing these scholarly resources?"

Her interest in language is well earned and the idea for the conversation groups was born out of a study leave she took to Mexico five years ago. While there, Westwood studied Spanish by immersing herself in the language. She enrolled in a language school with a library in a small Mexican town. Journaling her experiences, she studied what kind of library resources she used to support her learning, then returned a year later to conduct a survey and compile results for a paper she then presented at a conference in Australia. Conversation groups were a part of the informal curriculum, and she facilitated an English group while also participating in a Spanish group.

"My goal that semester was language facility," she says. "I was interested in sitting in that space, seeing what kinds of resources I used and watching the other students and seeing what resources they used. As a language librarian, I was then able to share that new knowledge with the broader professional community."

It was the kind of information she could bring back to the U of L to help her create a better learning environment for the many modern language students on campus. It was more than that though; it also provided her with an opportunity to use the library as more than a research destination but also a community space.

With assistance from the International Centre for Students as well as the Faculty of Management, Westwood recruited students as volunteer hosts of the conversation groups. After that, it was a matter of opening the doors and letting the program evolve in whatever direction it took.

"I don't participate in the actual groups, I just facilitate them and whatever experiences they have, they have," she says.
"I would say it's been a success. Really, even if just one student comes it's a success, and it's something that I want to continue."


• Westwood has worked in the U of L Library since 1992, and was the science librarian before getting back to her roots in the fine arts and languages

• She graduated from the U of L with a BASC (Dramatic Arts) degree in 1984, then earned her Masters in Library Science from University of British Columbia in 1987

• Westwood chose French, Spanish and Japanese for the conversation groups because they are languages offered as part of the U of L's Modern Languages program

• Conversation groups are open to all students, staff and faculty. Contact Westwood at to participate