What is Worlds of Words?
Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures is the largest collection of international children’s literature in the United States. Worlds of Words (WOW) is located on the University of Arizona campus in the College of Education building Room 453. WOW operates as a non-circulating library, as well as an educational resource center for multilingual and multicultural children's literature. WOW’s resources are open to all UA students, staff, UA-affiliated individuals, and local guests. They also host various school visits, guest speakers, and a rotating special exhibit relating to children’s literature. Worlds of Words is designed to function like a library and research center. According to their mission statement, WOW is “committed to creating an international network of people who share the vision of bringing books and children together, thereby opening windows on the world”. Their resources are open to children and adults, and visitors of all ages are welcome. WOW is open most every weekday from 9 AM - 5 PM, as well as on Saturdays from 9 AM - 1 PM.
Visitors can view more than 40,000 books in the WOW collection. They have books written in multiple languages, featuring various cultures across the globe, and have genres ranging from picture books to novels and nonfiction works. WOW also houses special collections with first-edition manuscripts and illustrations, signed documents, and other rare book content. All books are available to be read in WOW’s library. Books are not allowed to leave WOW, however there are no time restrictions on visits to the space. The space is set up with large desks and chairs, perfect for students and visitors to work on laptops and other devices. WOW also has multiple seating areas, like cushioned reading nooks and couches, set up around the aisles of books. The aisles are organized by global regions (continents and cultures). Most content is in English and/or published in the U.S., however there are internationally published books in the collection. Beyond the main collection room, WOW also has office spaces, a special collections room, a classroom, and a working studio space. All visitors must first check in on a clipboard, and then they are free to explore WOW’s collection.
A Brief History of WOW
Worlds of Words officially opened in 2007, though the idea for the center began years prior. Kathy Short, current director of WOW, worked as a professor in the UA’s Department of Language, Reading and Culture. Short began her career at UA teaching children's and adolescent literature in 1989. Throughout her time as a professor, she also handled many books locally and internationally. Short's involvement with the literary world led many publishers to send her copies of books. This resulted in a massive collection of children's literature and other related publications. Soon, Short's amassed collection was relocated to the College of Education basement. At this point, the collection was not the public-facing resource it is today. Short first pitched the idea of WOW to Dean Ron Marx in 2005 as she began to explore the intersection of education curriculum and global cultures within books. Short established WOW with educators and teachers in mind, wanting to collect books that could be used in educational contexts to teach children about countries and cultures across the world. Over the next two years, Short worked with WOW's now assistant director, Rebecca Ballenger, to organize the books in the collection. The books were divided by Short and Ballenger, and separated into different reading rooms for visitors. From WOW's public opening in 2007, WOW established a foundation of interest and support from UA faculty, students, and Tucson locals. WOW also grew in their partnerships with other literary professionals and educators who have a passion for global literacy and education. By 2014, the College of Education renovated a former computer lab on the building's fourth floor. This then became the space for WOW's collection and is its current location. Kathy Short and Rebecca Ballenger still serve as WOW's Director and Assistant Director, respectively. They are also aided in-house by Aika Adamson, their Senior Office Specialist. Other connections to the University of Arizona include support from the College of Education’s Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies students and faculty. Additionally, WOW worlds with CERCLL, described on their website as “a federal center on less commonly taught languages”. WOW utilizes their multilingual books as a foundation for teaching other languages and a growing appreciation for multilingual readership.
WOW's Resources & Community Involvement
Worlds of Words has its own website for guests to explore. The website features information about WOW’s events, publications, and local connections. Events hosted by WOW include educational visits, author/illustrator talks, and special events like the annual Tucson Festival of Books. These events are aimed at promoting literacy in children and teenagers, and also feature interactive discussions and activities for adults. Guests can find more information about WOW's events on their event calendar. As far as WOW's publications, WOW currently has three running journal publications: WOW Stories, WOW Review, and WOW Libros. WOW Stories, or WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom, is described as a "regular on-line publication of WOW containing vignettes written by classroom educators about children’s experiences reading and responding to literature in the classroom setting". The most recent publication is Fall 2022's issue. WOW Review, or WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures, is an "electronic, peer-reviewed journal of critical reviews on children’s and adolescent literature that highlights intercultural understanding and global perspectives". They are currently accepting submissions, with more information on their website. Lastly, WOW Libros, or WOW Libros: Leyendo Entre Palabras, is their "electronic, peer-reviewed journal of critical reviews on children’s and adolescent literature originally published in Spanish". Much like WOW Reivew, WOW Libros is also accepting submissions. Other publications featured on WOW's website include their blog, which highlights current reads, book recommendations, book lists, author profiles, and an interview-like conversational blog. WOW also has publications focused on education and curriculum, with a focus on global literature and intercultural education.
WOW is also heavily involved in local communities. A particularly notable feature of WOW’s local connections includes their Teen Reading Ambassador and Middle School Reading Ambassador programs. Both programs aim to connect Tucson's middle school and teen readers to promote literacy, library education, and general readership. These programs combine community service opportunities with education, creating an open and safe place for local kids and teens to read, learn, and create together. Teen Ambassadors read and discuss books together, making larger connections between their own lives or other cultures. They also host free guest visits from authors of the book they read at WOW. The process of reading, discussing, and planning all work together to give the Teen Ambassadors experience in community-building and promoting professional skills. Middle School Ambassadors do much of the same work, just with students in the range from 6th-8th grade. The books reviewed and worked with are also more age and content appropriate for middle school students. Both programs seek to empower young readers to better appreciate reading, and also share their experiences with peers in their schools and communities. Other community resources include WOW's Language and Culture Kits and Global Story Boxes. The Language and Culture Kits are best suited for 3rd-8th grade students; meanwhile, the Global Story Boxes are for younger readers around kindergarten to 2nd grade. These kits function as teaching aids for educators in Tucson and also out of state. These kits are centered around various regions and include picture books about the country/culture, books in that region’s language (if there are books in the language), and other teaching resources like CDs, photographs, or games. WOW offers Language and Culture Kits for 15 different regions and languages, and 12 regions for the Global Story Boxes. All accompanying materials for the kits and boxes are available to download on WOW's website.
To Contact WOW...
In addition to WOW’s website, visitors can follow WOW’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. There have also been a variety of news articles and blog posts published about WOW’s events and collection. To contact WOW, call: (520) 621-9340.
WOW's Quick Links:
Articles on WOW:
- Arizona Daily Star, on WOW as a Research Library
- The Daily Wildcat, on WOW's 'Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America' Exhibit
- Pine Reads Review, on WOW's "Around the World in 70 Maps" Exhibit
Library Planet, on WOW's Resources and Collection
This is Tucson, on WOW's Library and History