In light of the current political and social landscape around the world, there has been an increase of refugees abroad and here at home. With the imminent arrival of more refugee children and families from Syria and other war-torn regions, how can we assist these families in assimilating to their new home? How do we find out what their needs are so we can provide them with critical information about literacy, social services, jobs and other resources?
Libraries have long been a champion of freedom of access to materials for all walks of life. How do we leverage our commitment to equitable access to meet the needs of refugees, many of whom are vulnerable children?
Certainly the efforts of REFORMA have been well documented in promoting library services to Latinos and Spanish-speaking refugees. It has provided children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala backpacks of books and other resources when they arrive in the United States. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and Libraries Without Borders are other examples of organizations that aid refugees. CILIP, in the U.K., has outlined a welcome statement framing the types of services they feel are valuable to immigrants. Libraries without Borders has partnered with the United Nations to create a portable toolkit to assist refugees with information, literacy, and digital connectivity.
The Rogers Park and Albany Park communities in Chicago are two of the most diverse Neighborhoods in the entire country. There are over 40 different languages spoken in each of these communities. Several community organizations connect immigrants and refugees to the local libraries to access services, including story times for children. The Howard Area Community Center, Albany Park Community Center, and World Relief Chicago are a few of the community organizations that bring families to the Rogers Park and Albany Park Branch libraries for family story times, Summer Learning Challenge activities and to use the vast wealth of resources available at the Chicago Public Library.
We owe a sense of responsibility not only to the individuals who we can see, those who beckon our library doors and make our patron counts tick- but also to those we cannot see, but have the potential to reach. These people are the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society, whether they be U.S. citizens or not, so let’s take the lead in designing programs and policies that aid in their general welfare.
A recent study by the Pew Center sites that many Americans say they want libraries to serve special constituents like immigrants. In fact, 59 percent of the study respondents reported they would like to see libraries create services or programs for immigrants and first generation Americans. I say we should all answer the call!
Library in a Box