Immigrant-Friendly Libraries

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 31, 2008 1 min read
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Immigration is changing urban libraries in this country as well as public schools.

“Welcome, Stranger: Public Libraries Build The Global Village,” a report published by the Chicago-based Urban Libraries Council, tells how libraries are reaching out to immigrants by providing computer and English classes, integrating books written in foreign languages into their collections, and hiring bilingual staff members. (It takes a couple of minutes to download the 20-page report.)

This report is a reminder that it’s a good idea for educators to be aware of resources offered to immigrant families through their local public libraries. In Oakland, Calif., for example, the public library offers bilingual computer classes in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean. In Detroit, the library reaches out to immigrant mothers by providing both English and life skills classes for them.

I’ve been part of the effort of urban libraries to serve immigrants. For two years, through a local literacy council, I tutored three immigrant woman in English once a week at the Bethesda, Md., public library, a few blocks from my workplace. The library provided a free space for us to meet, and we relied on books and tapes from its collection to support the classes.

One of my students had school-age children, and she tapped into her developing English-language skills to support her children’s education, such as in figuring out how to sign her son up for SAT-prep classes. She showed me how an immigrant parent can make a little English go a long way in helping her children.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.