Making the Library A Welcoming Place
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.
Libraries offer an opportunity for education and lifelong learning for all.
PINEWOODS BIBLIOTECA, ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY LIBRARY, GEORGIA
The first stop for new Immigrants
The Pinewoods Library in Athens, Georgia, does not look like a typical library. Located in a double-wide trailer in a local mobile home park, Pinewoods serves roughly 2,000 people living in the mobile home park and 19,000 Hispanics in the greater Athens area. New immigrants often make the library their first stop to learn English and computer skills, along with discovering other library services, according to library director Kathryn Ames.
Services resonate with the park’s residents, evidenced by a two-fold increase in library attendance and circulation since 2006. But the library wanted to reach beyond the park to position itself as a resource and information center to the county’s larger Hispanic community. Funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant enabled Pinewoods to make its resources even more appealing, by purchasing materials most wanted by the library’s users.
The library also embarked on a high visibility campaign to position the library as a welcoming place for Hispanics in the greater Athens area, asking local “celebrities” to pose for a poster campaign.
A local restaurateur proudly displayed the poster featuring his staff. Other posters appeared in grocery stores and other commercial establishments in Hispanic neighborhoods. As a result of the library’s billboard campaign, community members also inquired about Spanish-language classes. Grad students from the University of Georgia Romance Language Department now teach basic Spanish at the library.
Caption: Local "celebrities" known to the Hispanic community in Athens, Georgia, posed for library posters. Celebrities included a local dentist, employees at a popular restaurant, a well-known musician, and a pediatrician who serves the library’s neighborhood.
INDEPENDENCE PUBLIC LIBRARY, KANSAS
Language skills at the center of the community
Independence Public Library wanted to offer services and materials for adult English language learners, since not everyone in this small, rural Kansas community can attend ESL classes at the local community college. Through the American Dream Starts @ your library, the library purchased eight new computers and tables for its ESL classroom, providing weekly ESL classes and online access to Mango Languages online learning software around the clock. The library kicked off its program with an event that included Dollar General employees, the library board, community members, and a live radio broadcast. The program has provided free, valuable resources that have improved the quality of life for many Independence residents and turned the library into a hub for everyone in the community.
HOMER TOWNSHIP PUBLIC LIBRARY DISTRICT, ILLINOIS
A place for everyone
Nearly 20 percent of the residents of Homer Glen and Homer Township speak a language other than English in their homes. But not all residents know that the library has something for everyone.
To redefine immigrants’ perceptions of libraries, Homer Township Public Library District used funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant to stock its bookmobile with resources for local residents. Targeting primarily Polish neighborhoods, the bookmobile hosted events and displayed Polish-language books that would interest children.
“Once parents saw what the bookmobile and library could offer their families, coming to the library became a less daunting experience.”
—Jody Olivieri, Homer Township’s American Dream project coordinator
Caption: Librarians at Homer Township (Ill.) Public Library District made sure to prominently display Polish-language books for children in order to introduce parents to library services.
MT. LEBANON PUBLIC LIBRARY, PENNSYLVANIA
“People learned to love the library. It was the first introduction of what America can be for them.”
–Cynthia Richey, library director
The American Dream Starts @ your library grant allowed Mt. Lebanon Public Library to host a series of “international teas” for immigrant women. For the women who attended—mostly stay-at-home moms—the library offered a new outlet where they could practice English, share their experiences about living in their new country and learn about American culture.
American Dream “Know Your Community” evening classes for both men and women introduced practical topics around American life, like the value of traffic laws, how to rent property, what to look for in a lease and how to buy a house. Inevitably, classes turned toward cross-cultural sharing and community building.
Volunteers also translated library card applications into Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Slovakian.
Caption: Local women attend an "international tea" event at the Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) Public Library. For many women, the events offered a rare opportunity to share their experiences.
CITRUS COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM, FLORIDA
Literacy, citizenship meet at the library
Located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the five branches of the Citrus County Library System serve a population of more than 140,000 people, with 7 percent of the population speaking a language other than English. Citrus County’s literary services are a true community effort, with more than 200 volunteers assisting a library staff of about 60 full and part-time employees to deliver group English classes, citizenship classes, and a Conversation Café. The American Dream Starts @ your library provided an opportunity to train new tutors and increase the adult literacy collection and its circulation. The library’s literacy outreach programs culminated in two celebratory events—Constitution Day and Love Your Library Day—that attracted almost 400 attendees, gained local media attention, and demonstrated the relationship between literacy, citizenship, and the library.
Caption: A local newspaper article covering citizenship classes at the Citrus County (Fla.) Public Library.