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¿Como Puedo Ayudarle? How Can I Help You?

by on August 22, 2019

Back in 2015, I wrote a piece for Public Libraries magazine titled ¿Como Puedo Ayudarle? Providing the Best Service to Your Hispanic Community. Given the current climate surrounding immigrants I felt it was appropriate to revisit the gist of the article here. Back when I wrote it, I worked at a public library on the Texas – Mexico border. At the time I never could have imagined the influx of immigrants and refugees seeking asylum and a better life here in the United States, that we are experiencing today.

At that library, my staff and I often fielded questions from refugees and immigrants regarding where they could go for assistance, whether or not we could print out Form N-400 for them or if we could assist them with finding work since they spoke little to no English. We gladly assisted wherever we could and not once did we ever inquire about their “legal” status. They came in, asked for assistance, and we provided that assistance to them. And this is something that all public libraries should always do. Public libraries should always be a safe haven and commons for the displaced, for those seeking refuge, and for those who have nowhere else to go.

When I wrote the original piece in 2015, the United States Census Bureau estimated the Hispanic population was about 17.4 percent of the total 319 million U.S. population. As of 2018, the United States Census Bureau estimates the Hispanic population is at around 58.9 million, or 18.1
percent of the nation’s total population.[1] So, as you can see, the Latinx population continues to grow. They will continue seeking assistance at public libraries and it is our duty as professional librarians to assist them. We should never deny immigrants or refugees from anywhere the assistance they seek. Their religion, background, ethnicity, or orientation is irrelevant.

To make matters even more difficult for immigrants, and for librarians, there have been so many changes in immigration policy the last several years that keeping up with it all is a daunting task. We should strive to educate ourselves as much as we can on these topics in order to at least provide beneficial information or directional information that immigrants can use. Because “for immigrants and refugees, having good partners to navigate these changing dynamics is important.” [2]

Librarians need to be aware of the growing population of immigrants and refugees. It is our duty to recognize any demographic changes in our communities, so that we can provide the best service. But we should not be tasked with assisting immigrants and refugees all on our own. Rather, seek out community partners to mitigate some of the pressure. We are not trained to provide legal assistance or any other kind of assistance that pertains to personal matters outside of our scope, but it is important to be able to provide those seeking assistance with a place to go.

Librarians should not be afraid to pick up phones to connect with those who can assist with legal or personal issues. Find the businesses and organizations in your community that can also assist immigrants and refugees. It is important to put forth the extra effort and to never underestimate any approach that may prove to be quite beneficial. And the best part about building these partnerships is that “partnerships help bring in services so your staff doesn’t need to provide everything.” [3]

It is important to remember that many times, public libraries are the last stop or last hope for immigrants and refugees. For this reason, libraries should always be inclusive places that build community. We should all strive to learn from each other and do what we can to ensure our
brothers and sisters from all walks of life have somewhere to turn. The important roles that public libraries have always played, and will continue to play, should never be forgotten.

“Libraries are America’s most democratic institutions…Libraries strengthen communities and help create a more literate and just society.” [4]

1. “Hispanic Heritage Month 2018.” United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2018/hispanic-heritage-month.html Accessed August 8, 2019.
2. Carlton, Amy. “Serving Immigrants and Refugees in Public Libraries.” American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/serving-immigrants-refugees-public-libraries/ Accessed
August 8, 2019.
3. Ibid.
4 “Libraries Transform. http://www.ilovelibraries.org/librariestransform/libraries-are-americas-most-democratic-institutions Accessed August 13, 2019.