Libraries by their very nature provide resources, access, information and materials  that are free to all.  We may or may not know it but we are all working with immigrant and refugee populations.  I’m sure we do know who we serve and hopefully we are addressing some of the needs these populations may need.  But as we have all been reading news as of late there is some significant movement with some populations in the United State and in other countries.  What is the distinction between refugees and immigrants? In the simplest of terms; an immigrant is someone who chooses to resettle to another country.  A refugee has been forced to flee his or her home country. As such, refugees can apply for asylum in the United States and this process can take years.  It also isn’t an easy process.


The United States is the world’s top resettlement country for refugees. For people living in repressive, autocratic, or conflict-embroiled nations, or those who are members of vulnerable social groups in countries around the world, migration is often a means of survival and—for those most at risk—resettlement is key to safety. In fiscal year 2015, the United States resettled 69,933 refugees and in FY 2013 (the most recent data available) granted asylum status to 25,199 people.

The Obama administration’s proposal to significantly increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts annually up to 100,000 in FY 2017 would mark the largest yearly increases in refugee admissions since 1990.

The proposed 85,000 worldwide ceiling for FY 2016 would include 10,000 Syrians and is further broken down into regional caps: 34,000 resettlement places for refugees from the Near East and South Asia (up 1,000 from 2015); 13,000 from East Asia (no change); 25,000 from Africa (up 12,000); 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean (down 1,000); and 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia (up 3,000). The unallocated reserve also increased from 2,000 in 2015 to 6,000 in 2016.

The numbers from recently war torn Syria is not as high as numbers of other nations; Nationals of Burma (also known as Myanmar), Iraq, and Somalia were the top three countries of origin for refugees in 2015, representing 57 percent (39,920 individuals) of resettlements. Rounding out the top ten countries were: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Bhutan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Cuba. *Information from Migration Policy Institute 

What are libraries doing to address needs of refugee and immigrant populations?

What are libraries across the country doing to help support and understand the needs from these refugees and new immigrants?  Are there things that you may be able to provide based off of some of this information?

We probably all read the amazing news article about Gary Trudeau passing out wordless picture books to Syrian refugees in Canada. What can libraries do to welcome immigrant or refugee teens to the libraries?

Look at what the city of Toronto Public Library did

A good number of libraries across the country already offer citizenship classes, ESL classes and workshops.  The Los Angeles Public Library offers citizenship programs and classes

San Francisco Public Library citizenship classes and other organizations to help

Austin Public Library has the New Immigrants Center citizenship classes, ESL classes, computer classes in other languages, job searching, legal help and more. How are they providing outreach and working with immigrant populations?

The NYPL promotes its work with immigrants and refugees visibly on their homepage under Outreach Services and Adult Programming  by calling it “Immigrant Services

Ady Huertas and the San Diego Public Library are addressing immigrant and refugee needs by partnering with organizations that work directly with them and providing library services.

Libraries Without Borders founded in 2008 is an organization that responds to the vital need for books, culture, and information in developing regions. In doing this, they provide relief in humanitarian emergencies and the building blocks for long term development. Launched its Ideas Box-The Ideas Box provides access to a wide variety of resources carefully selected by our team based on the needs of diverse cultural and linguistic areas and populations of each implementation zone. Its four content modules allow beneficiaries to connect, learn, play and create. Each Ideas Box is equipped with:

  • 15 touch-pads and 4 laptops with satellite Internet connection;
  • 50 e-readers, 5000 e-books and 250 paper books;
  • MOOCs and stand alone Internet contents (Wikipedia, Khan Academy…);
  • An in-built TV set, a retractable projection screen and 100 films;
  • Board & video games, and other recreational activities;
  • 5 HD cameras for participatory journalism and film-making;
  • 3 GPS devices for participatory mapping
  • Arts & crafts materials and more

Queens Library right on homepage “New Americans” that provides services in areas of financial services, citizenship classes, ESL, including connections to other organizations providing mental health services, legal services and more

The REFORMA Children in Crisis Project with the recent arrival of over 70,000 children crossing the southern border into the United States has created an unprecedented humanitarian refugee crisis that compels REFORMA as an organization to act.The children, mostly Spanish speaking, are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  While recent news coverage of this event has focused on legal, medical and emergency response to services, there are few if any news stories that demonstrate the social-emotional and information needs of these children and families.  A view of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities shows children waiting in large storage like facilities with no activities to occupy the children’s minds through learning and play while they are being processed.

And this is just what REFORMA Children in Crisis Project is providing; books.  On their homepage they provide lists of books they bring to children and teens in detention centers, group homes, and other locations where these teens may be detained. Book lists can be accessed for some ideas.

Salt Lake County Library System has worked since 1939 in serving and actively working with immigrant and refugee populations in Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City has worked since 1898.  They provide a list of all of their partners and services they provide  which identifies partners like; Refugee and Immigrant Center of Utah, the International Rescue Committee and others.

YALSA resources such as Serving Diverse Teens @Your Library is a good one stop shop with everything you may need to help you get started; research, reports, resources, connections, networks and more.

Library Journal had a recent article about the work that libraries are doing with refugee populations.
So what can you do? Being aware of who is in your community is a good start.  Seeing what the influx of new immigrant and refugee patterns are is helpful.  Identifying organizations through your city, town or county that are working directly with refugee and immigrant populations and reaching out to these agencies to see about partnering and collaborating.   But mostly sharing what the library can provide and really listening to what their needs are and how the library can address those needs. Maybe working with your collection development team in expanding the resources your library has available in other languages and then working with organizations to share out that collection.  Sharing the work your library is doing with and for teens on the YALSA Blog, Library Journal and other publications is important too so that others can learn and replicate some of those initiatives.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation