Libraries, the best advocates for immigrant integration

Some of the best resources communities have are libraries and librarians. As information specialists by trade, librarians are the communities’ best advocates to offer various resources and services. They create a space where everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, occupations or immigration status, is welcomed. CLINIC affiliate, Hartford Public Library is bringing together newcomers and long-term residents to create a community of belonging.

Like most libraries across the country, Hartford Public Library offers a variety of services to the immigrant community. Through their We Belong Here initiative, the library offers special programming that focuses on linguistics, civic integration, academics and economic stability. Since receiving their recognition by the Department of Justice in 2010, the library has significantly expanded its efforts of integration. In addition to English and citizenship workshops, Hartford Public Library has provided several programs to meet the various needs of immigrant families.;

One of their programs works with immigrant youth between the ages of 17-18 years old. “They are aging out [of public schools], they are isolated academically and culturally, we want to create a sense of belonging with a strong focus on academics,” said Homa Naficy, executive director of The American Place, which oversees the services to immigrants and adult education at Hartford Public Library. The after-school program brings together youth with tutors and mentors to assist in schoolwork. Together, they explore the community outside of a library or school setting. With 25 active volunteers and two certified ESL Instructors, the attendance for the after-school program has been perfect. “It’s like school but better” Naficy recalled a student saying. Other services help the family and individuals. With the help of volunteers, newcomers are paired with a cultural navigator. Together, they work through obtaining vital community services, establishing friendships and providing support where needed.

Employment sustainability and work skills training is another popular program at the library. In 2016, the library began collaborating with Hartford Public Schools’ Food, Child and Nutrition Services Division to provide on-the-job training — via its 43 school kitchens — for those interested in pursuing a career in the food industry. Program participants have learned work kitchen skills along with their workplace rights. Upon completing the program, many participants have received their Servsafe Certification. These certifications led them to work in the schools’ institutional kitchens, creating a more diverse workforce for the city. In 2019, the program had over 250 participants.

Most libraries have resources for the immigrant community to access. Another opportunity to promote integration and achieve a sense of belonging is to “hire immigrants, someone that is tied to the community and collaborate with them to provide the services. That will naturally create the relationships of trust and sense of belonging we are looking for,” said Naficy

CLINIC applauds Hartford Public Library for their efforts in promoting a safe, educated, diverse and welcoming community for the many families and individual they serve. Want a chance to be featured in our affiliate newsletter? Share with us your community’s unique integration efforts.