When English Is a Second Language

Ani Shahinyan

Boston Public Library Boston Public Library, Reading Room


“Do you know the expression out of the blue?” Peggy Blitz replied to the echo of questions, which were colored with foreign accents.

The ESL Conversation Group, held at the Boston Public Library four times per week, was cancelled on January 25th. Its hopeful participants lingered outside the closed glass doors of what used to be their classroom. Locals and tourists flooded the multi-level building where florescent lights stretched across the ceiling, illuminated the endless shelves of books. Library users huddling over words at surrounding tables began to look up one-by-one, only to look back down as outsiders. 

“I’ve been fired. How can they fire a volunteer? I’ve worked here for 13 years and have had 11,000 students,” uttered Dan Blitz in shock. Michael Murray, director of the library’s Literacy Services program, had received an anonymous message after the previous session. In…

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