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Libraries and immigrants

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 11 months ago

The history of US libraries serving immigrants is long and not particularly well documented.


During the early twentieth century, people steadily migrated to the US. “From 1900 to 1920, foreign born residents made up 13 percent of America's population. They turned to local organizations for assistance in adapting to American life. In addition to churches and settlement houses, immigrants turned to public libraries for education and job training. American public libraries were vital to these immigrants' orientation into American culture. Immigrants turned to libraries for assistance in learning to read, to further their own education, to enhance the education of their children, and for social outlets. Library administrations responded to the demands of immigrant patrons by altering their collection development policies, building branch libraries in immigrant communities, and hiring bi-lingual staff members who could communicate with the patrons living in immigrant communities”(Begg, 1996).


Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who went on to become the largest benefactor of public libraries in the United States, educated himself and learned about American culture through libraries. He worked hard to provide books to the poor and to help immigrants assimilate to their new country (Hudson-Carpenter and Hom, 2006).


In 1929, as Puerto Ricans arrived in New York and settled in southwest Harlem, a Puerto Rican librarian, Pura Belpre , hired by Anne Carroll Moore, became an active advocate for the Spanish-speaking community by instituting bilingual story hours, buying Spanish language books, and implementing programs based on traditional holidays such as the celebration of Three Kings Day. Belpre’s work at the New York Public Library served to “introduce the Puerto Rican immigrant to American life, and permit the convergence, and mutual respect of the two cultures.” (Pura Belpre Biographical Essay)


During this era of American history, the mission of the public library in its work with immigrants was to Americanize immigrants by teaching them English and preparing them for citizenship. Later, in the 1950’s, the library’s mission focused more closely on educating the adult immigrant and to internationalize the American community (Plummer, 1999).


Fast forwarding more than a century later, today libraries continue to serve immigrants from all over the world, helping them succeed by providing culturally and linguistically relevant materials and services. Libraries continue to be a key resource for many immigrants, as the first stop in seeking English language skills, and to help them acculturate to the different cultural values and traditions of their new community. Libraries across the country are leaning new ways to serve their diverse communities.


Unfortunately, opinion on the issue of library services for all members of our society is bitterly divided, especially after September 11, 2001. Negative attitudes are steadily growing across our country regarding immigration, especially those regarding services for Latinos. Our political climate is inundated with confusing and conflicting anti-immigrant campaigns. National anti-immigrant coalitions, including some librarians, believe that American identity is on the line, and seek to deny services of any kind to certain community members.


Immigrant advocates, on the other hand, including many librarians, believe that all people have the right to access information. Those holding this belief often use the Library Bill of Rights to defend this ideal. Many librarians are forced to use our Bill of Rights to defend, for example, collection development policies, ID requirements, the need to provide culturally-specific programming, linguistically appropriate bilingual storytimes, etc. Immigrant advocates also argue that the idea of only serving the English-speaking community is racially discriminatory and maintain that anti-immigrant agendas shall not mandate Library policies.


In response to situations like those outlined above, advocates across the country who support freedom of knowledge (especially those who advocate for library services for Latinos) have organized, prepared resolutions, and coordinated concerted efforts to guarantee equity of service. A leader in this work has been REFORMA, The Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking. REFORMA has dedicated a section of their website to resources and official public statements concerning immigrants and the Spanish-speaking. ( www.reforma.org )


In April 2006, REFORMA approved a resolution opposing H.R. 4437, stating that “REFORMA will encourage library workers to act as advocates for the education of undocumented immigrants about their human rights.” REFORMA members also developed a “Librarian’s Toolkit for Responding Effectively to Anti-Immigrant Sentiment” and signed on to the White Ribbon “Campaign for Dialogue”, an expression of support for meaningful conversations about immigration reform. The American Library Association and REFORMA both have agreements with the AMBAC (Asociación Mexicana de Bibliotecarios, AC), the Mexican national library association, to share information and opportunities.


Other efforts have been coordinated nationwide by librarians and by those who support libraries. For example, the Suffolk Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee presented “Breaking Down the Walls: Making Your Library a Community Cultural Center,” a symposium that discussed ways of serving immigrants including library cards for illegal residents. National library conferences, such as the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) and the American Library Association Annual Conference, have hosted programs to discuss the topic. In June 2007, Web junction hosted the webinar “Effectively Dealing with Anti-Immigrant Sentiment.” Speakers discussed how libraries can develop effective strategies for ensuring access to information to all people in their communities. Leaders of the library world led a live-nationwide discussion about the topic for and by librarians. Topics included advocacy, federal legislation, issues and options for academic, public, and school libraries(García-Febo, 2007).


Another initiative that promotes library services to immigrants is “The American Dream Starts @ Your Library” project sponsored by ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. This program offers mini-grants to libraries across the nation that wish to improve and expand adult literacy services to English-language learners.







Beca, Maria Elena. “Your library welcomes you” Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN. October 10, 2007


Begg, Amy A. “Enoch Pratt Free Libary and its Service To Communities Of Immigrant Residents Of Baltimore During The Progressive Era, 1900-1914”. COMM-ORG. 1994 Retrieved October 26, 2007 from http://comm-org.wisc.edu/papers96/pratt.html



García-Febo, Loida. “Librarians Unite to Serve Immigrant Communities” September, 17, 2007. Retreived October 26, 2007 from http://lae.greenwood.com/blog/index.php/2007/09/17/librarians-unite-to-serve-immigrant-communities/



García-Febo, Loida. “U.S. Libraries and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment—How Librarians Are Coping with Discrimination To Better Serve Hispanic Communities”. Criticas, October, 2007. Retrieved November 3, 2007 from http://shron.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/



Hudson-Carpenter, Maria and Hom, Gregory. “The Immigration Debate: Who is the Public the Library is Meant to Serve?” Versed; May-June 2006



Luevano-Molina, Susan (Editor). Immigrant Politics and the Public Library. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 2001



Najera, Derek. “U.S. Public Library Services to Latin American Immigrants: A Survey of Information Needs, Barriers to Access, Best Practices and Guidelines for Developing Library Services at a Local Level”; WebJunction, 2006. Retrieved November 12, 2007 from www.webjunction.org/do/DisplayContent?id=14626



“No Más: Library Nixes Spanish Fiction” CBS News. Lawrencville, Ga., June 22, 2006 Retrieved October 26, 2007 from http://www.showbuzz.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/22/books/main1742183.shtml?source=search_story




Plummer, Jr., A.J. Still Struggling for Equality. Westport, CT : Libraries Unlimited, Westport, CT. 2004



Plummer, Jr., A.J.. Libraries,Iimmigrants, and the American Experience. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT.1999



Pura Belpre Biographical Essay. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños. Retreivedon November 6, 2007 from http://centropr.org/prwriters/belpre.html



Quintero, Fernando. “Protesters cite porn on shelves - 'Fotonovelas' drive crowd to demand that librarian resign.” Rocky Mountain News, August 9, 2005. Retreived October 26, 2007 from http://www.cairco.org/articles/art2005aug09b.html



Ramírez Wohlmuth, Sonia and de la Peña-McCook, Kathleen. “Equity of Access: Igniting a Passion for Change”, WebJunction, 2004. Retrieved November 12, 2007 from www.webjunction.org/do/DisplayContent?id=5507



Ramos, Jorge. The Other Face of America. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 2000



Stephens, Julia. “English Spoken Here”. American Libraries, November, 2007




WebJunction: http://webjunction.org

WebJunction offers a plethora of resources for libraries serving new immigrants, including wiki’s, blogs, links to articles, books and other websites on the topic.


REFORMA: http://www.reforma.org/

An affiliate of the American Library Association, REFORMA is the “National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking” There are immigrant-specific resources under Resources and Public Statements.


American Library Association: http://ala.org

A few helpful resources are found in the section Professional Tools and then by accessing the link Diversity. The link Diversity Articles and Publications under the heading Publications leads to a rich listing of resources in print and online, of which many pertain to serving the Spanish-speaking.



   By T.Pineda


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