By Susan Hildreth
The demographics of the United States are changing. Approximately 650,000 people become U.S. citizens each year. The United States has experienced large waves of immigration over the last fifty years. In 1960, only around one out of every twenty residents in the United States was foreign-born. Today, around one in eight residents of the U.S. was born in another country.
Many immigrants come from countries without a tradition of library service. However, for decades, U.S. public libraries have been welcoming places for immigrant integration. Today’s libraries offer Internet access, convenient locations, and librarians who often serve as information navigators. Recent research shows that more than 55 percent of people who immigrated to the United States within the last 15 years use the public library at least once a week. Did you know that we anticipate that more than half of the mock naturalization interviews that will be conducted in the coming months will take place in public libraries?
Library leaders across the country are teaming up to serve new immigrants. I am proud to announce that on June 30, at this year’s American Library Association Annual Conference, I was joined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. Through this partnership, we will provide public libraries with immigration and citizenship information, including training opportunities and educational literature for local librarians.
As the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States, USCIS field offices will coordinate with local libraries to conduct free, public information sessions on the naturalization process and other relevant immigration topics. They will also coordinate with local libraries to hold naturalization ceremonies at selected libraries. IMLS helps libraries foster an atmosphere of cross-cultural understanding and learning opportunities in a trusted environment. We will raise libraries’ awareness about the services available from USCIS and expand the distribution of educational materials to libraries.
We are already seeing great examples of libraries working to serve their immigrant communities. In 2012, the City of Los Angeles worked with USCIS to provide citizenship resources and training for library staff in all 73 branches of the Los Angeles Public Libraries. Designated “citizenship corners” in the libraries have copies of the Citizenship Toolkit as a resource. Along with the training that was provided to the library personnel, the library’s community rooms were made available for citizenship and English language classes.
USCIS is working to replicate this model with the Chicago Public Library and is interested in creating similar partnerships in municipalities across the country.
“The American Place” Project at the Hartford Public Library also provides library resources and services to help immigrants understand the naturalization process and start their journey toward U.S. citizenship. Programs and resources include citizenship application workshops, onsite immigration counseling, Pilot Citizenship & Civic Engagement classes, citizenship classes taught in English and Spanish, and immigrant resource packets.
How can your library get involved?
- Visit www.uscis.gov for educational resources and to download a copy of the Citizenship Toolkit for your library.
- Be on the lookout for USCIS and IMLS webinars every six months that will provide information on immigration services for interested librarians.
We look forward to working on this great partnership. Tell us more about how your library (or museum!) is meeting the needs of immigrants.