Building Tomorrow from the Ground Up

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This article is part of the American Dream Series. The American Dream Starts @ your library grant helped many libraries—for the first time—to reach out to immigrant communities and other adult English-language learners.



Putting the Library on the Map

“The American Dream Starts @ your library grant gave us a big shot in the arm. Not only did it help the library embark on a plan to serve a new audience, but having national recognition motivated other donors to contribute to library programs.”

—Darby Wallace, Jackson County Library, former director

Prior to the American Dream project, the Jackson County Library in rural Newport, Arkansas, serving a population of 18,000, offered no special services or collections or classes for adult English-language learners. But a 337 percent increase in Arkansas’ Hispanic population between 1990 and 2000 sent a clear message to the library.

The library used funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant to hire a part-time ESL tutor and to purchase CDs, DVDs, and workbooks for learning English, as well as Mango Languages online language learning software. Classes grew, starting with students from a local employer. When the word got out about the American Dream project, more and more people started to attend.

For example, Yovan, Felipe, and Irene had never been to the library before attending ESL classes. They now visit every Monday afternoon, their only day off from work. The library’s American Dream project put the library on the map with a whole new audience.

”For libraries our size and smaller that are looking to reach out to English language  learners, start with just a few resources that target kids, like bilingual picture books and fairy tale books. If you have something that kids want, parents will follow. Start simply. But start!”

-Darby Wallace, Jackson County Library, former director


A Place Accepting of Everyone

Sayre, Pennsylvania, is a rural community 65 miles from Scranton, just at the southern border of New York State. Since the 2000 census, the Sayre community has seen an influx of workers who speak Spanish, many of whom work in the local natural gas industry.

The library enlisted an informal advisory committee of recent immigrants to provide recommendations about which foreign-language materials to purchase with funds from the American Dream grant.

“The American Dream Starts @ your library grant enabled us to position the library as a welcoming place, accepting of everyone, and to emphasize an appreciation for different cultures and how they contribute to the American landscape. The grant has ended, but the goodwill it created will continue.”

—Susan DePumpo Robinson, Sayre Public Library Director