New Americans often desire to learn about their new community and its members, just as much as people who already live in the area wish to get to know new Americans. Given the importance of fostering connections between new Americans and patrons who already live in the area, libraries can strategize by first understanding to what degree new Americans feel welcomed. This work can also be accomplished in the needs assessment process.
In some places, libraries can explicitly welcome new Americans in promotional materials, signage, and other areas. In other places where there may be ambivalence or tension supporting the presence of new Americans, a broad message of welcome to all might be more appropriate. Libraries should consider a range of approaches to meet diverse needs. How can you maximize word of mouth to promote your services to diverse populations? How might existing programming be made as inclusive as possible? Moreover, these libraries may want to figure out how they can serve new Americans with existing programming, rather than creating new programming that would draw attention to groups who may wish to remain anonymous, such as ELL classes or citizenship preparation.
Strategies for supportive programming that builds relationships among community members include conversation partner programs, multicultural meals, World Book Day events, and other types of cultural exchanges. These opportunities should go beyond the tendency to essentialize – meaningful interaction is more than a single meal, festival, or movie.
Suggested Action Steps
- Review existing programs. Are any of these already attracting both new Americans and those who are established in the community? If not, are there ways to modify the programs to be more inclusive?
- Could any existing programs do a better job of having patrons interact? How?
- Determine your library’s goals for helping people connect. Is your goal to increase cross-cultural understanding and appreciation? To make new patrons feel more welcome? Having clear goals will help with program strategy.
- Cultural Programming for Libraries: Linking Libraries, Communities, and Culture by Deborah A. Robertson
- Breaking Bread with Refugees
- The Longest Table
- Harford Public Library – The American Place