ALA Annual Conference 2023

Creating Welcoming Spaces at #alaac23

Immigrant and refugee communities are a large portion of our communities and our libraries. But are we doing everything we can to make our libraries a welcoming environment for those families? Sarah Polen and Jacquie Kociubuk outlined actionable strategies for libraries in their session Welcoming Spaces: Creating Welcoming Environments for Immigrant and Refugee Families.

Start with your space.

While often overlooked, physical spaces say a lot about who is welcome, what behaviors are expected, and if the space is safe; consider physical aspects like your décor, furniture, and signage. Additionally, think about elements like sound. The stereotypical silent library can be hugely alienating for a family. Finally, think about staff actions, too, including elements like cameras, security guards, and photo ID requirements.

Leverage your programs.

The first interaction an immigrant family will often have with libraries is through programming. Moreover, they are more likely to come back if they participate in a program. Immigrant-led cultural programs provide additional opportunities to really engage with these communities and their specific interests and needs.

Connect with community partners.

While libraries are repositories of information and resources, it’s important to acknowledge our gaps. Partnerships help you gain more insight into the specific needs and experiences of your communities. In addition, they can help bridge gaps your library may have in resources, staff time, and expertise. Combining resources creates more impactful work.

Be a community presence.

Relationships require trust. Building that trust requires being visible and showing up, again and again. This might mean going outside your library’s walls to better engage with families in the places they are already visiting regularly.

Provide accessible and diverse materials.

It’s important to provide resources both in English and the native languages of your community. Both are important parts of making families feel welcome and supporting their experiences. Even more, be intentional about making sure that all communities are represented, not just the ones that are front of mind.

Involve community members.

It’s important to cultivate relationships with key leaders in these communities. Not only will this increase your understanding of the group’s unique circumstances, it will also help you build empathy throughout your community. It’s also a valuable source of feedback to know what you’re doing well and where you can improve.

Hire and Train Culturally Competent Staff

You need staff at all levels who can capably interact in a variety of cross-cultural settings. This requires intentionality and self-reflection on the part of staff, but it’s well worth the effort. Ensure that you offer training and resources to staff in all positions. Not sure where to start? Reach out to libraries already skilled in this area. Multilingual staff can also offer huge benefits to your library and communities.

For more resources and ideas, check out this Welcoming Spaces resource guide. What has your library done to create welcoming spaces for immigrant and refugee families?

Today’s guest contributor is Jaime Eastman (she/her/hers). Jaime is a senior Public Services Librarian and Family Place Coordinator at the Harrington Library, one of the Plano (Texas) Public Library locations. She’s currently serving as a member of the ALSC Board of Directors. This will be her second Annual Conference. She is looking forward to many things, including finalizing the strategic plan with the rest of the Board, seeing great educational sessions sponsored by ALSC, and connecting with members both in person and through the blog. Jaime is currently working on at least two ambitious cross stitch projects, dreaming of future travel plans, and reading far too many books at once. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be an author. Writing for the blog and publishing with Children and Libraries feel like a good start, and she regrets nothing about her adult decision to be a librarian doing storytimes who didn’t have to grow up too much.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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