In the months since the November 2016 elections in the United States, many of us have felt an uneasiness in this country unlike any I can recall. I have witnessed the stress and anxiety the future holds for so many of our students on campus – many of whom come from other countries. This was highlighted for us during the spring semester when we noticed students struggling with the ability to focus on their assignments and other activities, as well as the feedback we have gathered from our faculty. One of our missions is to keep our patrons safe and feel welcomed within our walls.
We are not the only ones witnessing such fear. Yet, what has made me incredibly proud is the way libraries are creating “Safe Havens” for their patrons. The American Library Association (ALA) has a statement and information in their Resolution in Support of Immigrant Rights which explains the resolution (and the need for it), as well as offering resources to libraries across the country with tools to make their institutions “safe havens”. Project Welcome is one such venture the ALA has begun in partnership with the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, and “aims to learn and articulate ways libraries can address the information needs of refugees and asylum seekers in order to support and empower them in their resettlement and integration process”. They also offer a Services for Libraries page containing information of agencies within the United States that can assist libraries as they make their spaces safe for all who wish to use them. Additionally, the ALA has created a hashtag, #LibrariesRespond, that allows you to join the conversation and gather additional material.
But it is not just academic libraries or library organizations that are taking on this charge. Numerous public and special libraries around the country are making their libraries “safe” places for those seeking refuge, such as immigrants and non-traditional communities. We must remember their contributions to our union highlights what we have always considered to be a unique aspect of the United States. As Vilma Daza states, in her wonderful article regarding her own library in Queens, New York: “Libraries are also culture centers that bring together the diverse groups in our neighborhoods. Whether we’re celebrating Latin American Cultural Week with a series of workshops or ringing in the Lunar New Year with a Chinese ribbon dance workshop, our libraries are truly places of for people to meet and embrace one another. We are a safe haven, a welcoming place where the only thing you’re asked is ‘What can I help you with?’”
Additionally, the public libraries in Madison, Wisconsin have been designated as “safe spaces” where residents can obtain phone interpreter services and immigrant rights information. This was vital to the librarians to create, as “students are worried they are going to lose a parent or both parents. Or that they themselves won’t be able to pursue higher education”. As librarians we want everyone who comes into our buildings to feel they are welcome and that the resources they need are available to them, regardless of their background or life choices.
The American Library Association has a unit dedicated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community (GLBTRT) which was first established in 1970. In 2013 they created “Safe in the Stacks: Community Spaces for Homeless LGBTQ Youth” which offers libraries resources for this often ignored or vilified population.
I am proud of the numerous ways in which libraries across the country are advocating and providing safe places for populations who have grown fearful of what the future may hold for them while trying to acclimate to a new life – one they can enjoy openly. I have always felt that libraries have been havens for me and am thrilled so many others are making their buildings safe for their varied populations.
What do you think about how libraries are responding to the needs of their communities? Is your library assisting others in unique ways? Please share your comments via our Facebook, Twitter or our LinkedIn pages.
–Molly Brown, ILN Content Officer