Creating a Global Village
Angela Hanshaw | March 09, 2010
As the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) notes, “In the United States, foreign-born residents now constitute more than 12.4% of the population, a higher figure than at any time since 1910. … The integration of these millions of new residents into the fabric of American life is a major undertaking.” In order to address this increasingly important issue, ULC created “Welcome, Stranger: Public Libraries Build the Global Village” (PDF) along with an accompanying toolkit (PDF) to help libraries.
“Welcome, Stranger” offers five strategies successful libraries use to serve these new residents in their communities:
Libraries Understand Local Immigration Dynamics. Public libraries are gathering population and geographic data from both public sources and informal connections to immigrant networks. When libraries understand neighborhood-level information about new residents, their needs, and the resources available to them, libraries can shape their services and form their partnerships effectively. Especially in cities that have not been traditional immigrant destinations, libraries are often leading their communities in the discovery and description of immigrants’ needs and concerns.
Libraries Bring Cultural and Language Sensitivity to Service Delivery. The biggest barrier for new arrivals is language. Libraries are addressing this with innovations in signage, websites, collections, and provision of basic services in the first languages of their new residents.
Libraries Build English Capacity. English proficiency is the most important factor in immigrants’ chances for success. Public libraries, drawing on their century-long experience as builders of literacy of children and families, are expanding their reach to new residents. Early literacy and family literacy programs are preparing young children for school. Adult English instruction is equipping learners with better life skills and job opportunities. With schools and other learning providers as partners, libraries are also delivering focused programs on job-hunting, health and nutrition, and other survival needs.
Libraries Create Connections to Local Institutions. Most communities are equipped with a broad array of agencies and institutions. Although these organizations provide assistance for work, education, health and housing, recent immigrants are often unable to benefit from their services. Language barriers, geographic isolation, and culture shock are significant impediments. Libraries are connecting the agencies and services aimed at the general population with the newcomers’ needs. Business support, health information, and school engagement are leading examples of this work.
- Libraries Encourage Civic Engagement. Participation in public and civic life is not a traditional expectation for many immigrants. Even the simple American act of registering for a library card can be a strange and frightening experience for some. Libraries encourage both community inclusion and newcomer participation. Using their historic role as strong, unbiased public spaces, dedicated to learning and exploration, they are fostering public discussion of the challenges faced by both newcomers and the communities receiving them.
In addition to expanding upon the above, the guide also includes specific programming ideas libraries have implemented that you can use to create or enhance your own global village. How are you accommodating this population in your library?
Angela Hanshaw is Program Officer/Web Editor for the ALA Public Programs Office.