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Dispatches from PLA 2014: Serving Immigrants and Linguistically-Diverse Communities

by on April 1, 2014

In recent decades the United States has experienced an influx of immigrants from all over the world. The foreign born population has risen and continues to rise tremendously. While immigrants from Latin America, China and India make up the largest groups, people from hundreds of other countries (including refugees) arrive in the U.S. each year. All could benefit immensely from access to the services and informational resources that libraries can provide. Public libraries can be life-changing institutions for people new in the United States. They can connect these people to valuable information to help them in their new lives. The main challenges for libraries in doing this are: to find out what immigrant populations are in your area, in what numbers, and what their specific informational needs are. Then, the work can begin to try to meet those needs. This PLA session (Serving Immigrants and Linguistically Diverse Communities) offered valuable information to those interested in connecting with and serving immigrants and diverse populations in their local communities.

Accurate community demographics, especially in a community with immigrants or refugees, are not generally reflected in census data, so panelists in this session offered ideas for how to get a more accurate picture of your community. They urge partnering with various organizations– such as local researchers, charity groups, refugee resettlement agencies, schools, and churches—to get connected with local immigrant population and build important partnerships. Panelists shared their experiences with outreach and services to local refugee, linguistically diverse and other immigrant populations.

Session attendees learned about how libraries in Tucson, Arizona partnered with local research institutions to gather information about the community. These libraries then used the Community Based Participatory Research Model and created targeted videos to reach out to various populations and spread the word about library programs such as ESL, GED, and citizenship classes.

We also heard about outreach liaisons in the Hennepin County (Minnesota) Library system that work to build connections with each of their prominent communities: Hmong, Latino, and Somali. These liaisons determine the needs of these communities and implement appropriate services and programs, such as world language story times, cultural programs and even staff training.

Omaha (Nebraska) librarians discussed how they are working hard to remove barriers that hinder library usage to linguistically and culturally diverse groups. They’re making access easier to these populations, as well as making the library itself more welcoming through redesigned signage, spaces, and web interfaces.

Throughout the session, the importance of building relationships with local organizations to connect with diverse communities was emphasized as an essential part of successful outreach and in sustaining and expanding services. Serving diverse communities will vary community to community, depending on the demographics and unique needs of people in the area. While reaching out to and serving linguistically diverse communities may be very challenging, it is essential and can make tremendous differences in the lives of people in these communities.