Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Engage with USCIS @ ALA Midwinter

by Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D., Literacy Officer, ALA OLOS

Mary Herrmann, the chief of USCIS’ Public Engagement division will facilitate a discussion on digital access to immigration resources and benefits at ALA's Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.

What: USCIS Engagement on Digital Access
When: Sunday, January 27, 2013, 3-4pm
Where: Washington State Conv. Ctr, Room 205

Click here to add it to your MW 2013 Schedule

In the very early years of the 20th century, my grandparents fled czarist Russia, traveled through Europe, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, and ended up in Chicago. Their immigrant stories shaped and colored my childhood. I was always surrounded by adults who spoke many languages and told remarkable stories about their early years in ‘the old country’ and their harrowing voyage to America. Every family dinner ended with my uncle raising a glass and declaring in heavily accented English, “America, I love you!”

When my grandparents arrived in Chicago, they went to work, they went to school, and they went to the nearest public library. It’s been a hundred years since my grandparents came to the United State and more than 60 years since I heard these stories. Times have changed and the world has changed. One thing remains the constant…immigrants still rely on our public libraries for assistance, education, and at times, solace.

Our public libraries continue to provide information and resources for an increasingly diverse and steadily growing immigrant population. In large and small communities across the country public libraries have diverse collections in a myriad of languages. I know that the many branches of the large, urban Queens Borough (NY) Public Library has collections in every language from “Arabic to Urdu”… and that’s to be expected. Surprisingly, the Jackson County Library in small, rural Newport, Arkansas is expanding their ESL collections to meet the demands of their growing population of English language learners.

In addition, public libraries offer free and equitable access to technology. We know, that if you can get to the library you can get to a computer. Immigrants use library computers to write to family members scattered across the globe, read the online editions of their hometown newsletters, search for employment, access naturalization information and apply for citizenship.

As librarians, you’ve helped countless immigrants locate the resources they need to live, work, and thrive in America. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is profoundly aware of the essential and expanding role libraries play in the immigrant integration process. In fact, USCIS is developing an electronic system to accept more benefit requests online. They fully expect the public library to be a primary source of access to this online system. USCIS is interested in talking with librarians about the future of immigrants’ access to immigration services and benefits at ALA's Midwinter Meeting, in a discussion group called "USCIS Engagement on Digital Access," to be held on Sunday, Jan. 27 in room 205 of the Washington State Convention Center. The session will be facilitated by Mary Herrmann, chief of USCIS' Public Engagement Division.

Hosted by the ALA Committee on Literacy, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, and USCIS, this hour-long session will also be an opportunity for attendees to discuss potential citizenship education partnerships between USCIS and public libraries.