When promoting a new American program, word choice is important. Knowing the best terminology to use with the general public, while at the same time targeting a subset of people, can prove critical to the success of a program for new Americans.
We recommend avoiding broad terms like “new Americans” in promotional materials due to the multiple ways it can be interpreted. For instance, “new Americans” might be misinterpreted as those who become legal citizens. Instead, try to understand how the specific new American populations might describe the program. For instance, new Americans may want to use their places of origin or ethnic identifications and aren’t concerned about generic terms. At the same time, being too specific can make it difficult for a library to communicate to a large audience, and even to staff. In other cases, it might be helpful to know the name of a service or idea in a group’s native language, so that the people who might benefit from the program can recognize its relevance. This approach can reduce the need to find the proper generic terms in English.
Libraries should ensure marketing terminology accurately represents the intended outcomes of the program and should be aware of problematic translations. Libraries should work with their community partners to develop recommendations on proper terms. Creating promotional materials is also a great role for a new American staff member or volunteer, as they will likely have unique knowledge of the target audience. Understanding appropriate terminology can also be embedded in the community needs assessment process. It is advisable to use terms that best fit the specific community being targeted.
There are additional dynamics that libraries should be aware of when marketing a program, particularly the intended audiences. Some services — like immigration legal counsel — might seem like they’re for new Americans seeking legal documentation. However, these programs might be primarily sought out by the families of new Americans rather than by the individual who needs the service.
Suggested Action Steps
- Make a list of terms you hear used around your library.
- Talk to coworkers and library patrons about which terms they prefer and why.
- Use a public feedback activity for further input – like inviting Post-it notes on a question wall.
- Literacy for All: Adult Literacy through Libraries
- Inclusive Booklists (for building diverse collections
- Libraries Respond: Immigrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers