Federal initiative highlights role of libraries in immigrant skill-building

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, November 11, 2015

Participants in the federal Networks for Integrating New Americans technical assistance initiative gathered in Washington DC recently for a two-day convening. Joining the convening for its second day were members of the initiative’s Technical Work Group, a group of advisors that includes National Skills Coalition Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock.

The initiative is funded by the US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. It is led by World Education, Inc. and supported by partner organizations Community Science, IMPRINT, National Partnership for New Americans, Network Impact Inc., and Welcoming America. (Learn more about the initiative, and read the detailed Theoretical Framework (pdf) on immigrant integration that guides its work.)

The recent event highlighted the diverse approaches taken by the five local networks supported by the initiative. Each network is comprised of stakeholders in adult education, workforce development, and other fields who work to facilitate immigrants’ linguistic, economic, and civic integration.

The five networks are:

  • We Rhode Island Network (WeRIN) (Providence, RI)
  • Neighbors United Network (Boise, ID)
  • White Center Promise Network (White Center, WA)
  • Lancaster County Refugee Network (Lancaster, PA)
  • Networks for Integrating New Americans of the Central Valley (Fresno, CA)

Libraries as Sites of Integration: Two Examples

Several of the networks’ presentations at the recent convening shed light on how libraries can facilitate immigrant integration and skill-building. For example, WeRIN members are participating in the Adult Lifelong Learning (ALL) Access project, spearheaded by Rhode Island libraries and funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

As part of ALL Access, local libraries now offer a “Learning Lounge” that allows adult learners to drop in (thus creating an on-ramp for participation even while prospective learners are on a waiting list for an adult education class). ALL Access also provides learners with one-on-one technology appointments with librarians, and offers computer skills certifications through library classes.

On the other side of the country, members of the White Center Promise Network are participating in The Big Read, a storytelling and civic engagement project coordinated by a host of partners including the King County (WA) Library System. Focusing on Ethiopian-American author Dinaw Mengestu’s book The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, the project is offering dozens of activities for immigrant and US-born community members over a months-long period beginning in September 2015.

Perhaps the most notable: Teenage and adult immigrants have been trained as facilitators for community discussion groups. Armed with translated excerpts of Mengestu’s book, newcomers are now fostering their fellow immigrants’ civic engagement and literacy skills while improving their own public-speaking abilities.

A National Push

Looking beyond the local examples of WeRIN and White Center Promise Network, libraries’ role in supporting access to skill-building and economic opportunity is receiving increasing attention at the federal level.

In 2013, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and US Citizenship and Immigrations Services signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The USCIS website now hosts a resource section specifically for libraries on citizenship.

Similarly, in 2014, the US Departments of Labor and Education collaborated with the IMLS on an article emphasizing opportunities for libraries in implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Soon after, the American Library Association hosted a webinar: $2.2 Billion Reasons Libraries Should Care about WIOA.

National Skills Coalition will continue to highlight emerging developments in this important arena.