Hartford Public Library was the last station of my US visit. Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, has roughly 120,000 inhabitants. These speak 90 different languages and the number of immigrants and refugees in Hartford is relatively large given the size of the city. Thanks to its excellent networking (for example, with the Resettlement Center of the Catholic Charities), the Hartford Public Library plays a strong role in integration work, a service that is being performed with great success.
The most important services for immigrants in Hartford are courses and the information offered at the so-called American Place. This program is intended to ease integration in the new country. The following types of assistance are available:
- English and citizenship courses
- eLearning work places
- Office hours with lawyers for citizenship questions
- Internet access
- Informational material about events and other services in the neighborhood
Furthermore, there is a Job and Career Center directly near the entrance to the library. This is a branch of an employment agency, which not only offers counseling, but also provides PCs for job searches.
Young immigrants can also find help in the library: currently a project run in conjunction with the local school system offers 16 year old newcomers English classes and tutoring. The students are selected by their school, receive $250 and can participate in further afternoon activities. The goal is to prepare the students for a successful college career.
In my conversation with Homa Naficy, the coordinator responsible for continuing education, it came to my attention that many projects only come to fruition thanks to funding from foundations and grants. Aside from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, one can also apply for funds from the Citizenship and Integration grant program of the government. The latter supports programs that support the path to citizenship.
One example is the initiative We Belong Here. The project is based on the idea of building a foundation of trust between immigrants and the welcoming society, thereby supporting a common engagement in the community.
The We Belong Here initiative is based on the following building blocks:
- The volunteer program, Cultural Navigators, in which mentors help individual immigrants in cultural assimilation for 3 months. The initial meetings take place in the library.
- The networking of stakeholders at regular meetings on the topic of immigration.
- Invitations are extended to immigrants and citizens alike to attend neighborhood dialogues at which topics of interest to the entire community are discussed.
- Film screenings and literary circles on the immigrant experience are held to encourage sensitivity to the topic. These often take place on June 20, World Refugee Day.
This model project has created a toolkit (PDF), so that other libraries may benefit from their experiences.
The Hartford Public Library showed me that libraries that don’t have the financial or personnel resources of libraries in New York can still acquire funds for creative projects. And that a strong network in the neighborhood goes far in supporting long-term, successful integration work.