Public Libraries: Analysis of Services for Immigrant Populations and Suggestions to Improve Outreach

Public Libraries: Analysis of Services for Immigrant Populations and Suggestions to Improve Outreach

Laura Karbach
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9953-3.ch008
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The author, as part of a Master Thesis study, analyzes the impact public library services and programs have in the lives of local Mexican mothers with children attending school in the United States and provides suggestions on ways to improve outreach of services and support. Results related to library use, parental involvement, service and programs, challenges including funding, Spanish-speaking staff, pre-conceived ideas, and awareness issues, as well as the largest issue of outreach are all discussed. In addition, outreach solutions are offered and the overall benefits of the study are assessed.
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Public libraries are a wonderful resource for communities. It is not uncommon for library services to incorporate a range of activities and helpful services and programs for all ages, ranging from story time (Koontz & Jue, 2008) to family literacy programs (Khailova, 2013), GED (General Educational Diploma) classes (Vårheim, 2011) to ESL (English as a Second Language) classes (Koontz & Jue, 2008), computer/ information literacy (Densley & Ross, 2013; Morrone & Witt, 2013) or the simple act of borrowing (D’Elia, Abbas, Bishop, Jacobs, & Rodger, 2007). Unfortunately, data indicates that many libraries are not being utilized to their full potential as 48.7% of young people in Clark & Hawkins’ (2011) study said that they do not use public libraries at all, and only one third of the households in Glander & Dam’s (2007) study used a public library in the month before and one half in the prior year. While there are many possible reasons why libraries are not being used, research reveals that the biggest influence in public library use is parental involvement (Clark & Hawkins, 2011) which can be impacted by other obstacles including education level, socioeconomic status, language barriers, ethnicity, and pre-existing perceptions among other factors.

Today’s school libraries are wasting away, unused and underfunded. One of the challenges mentioned in the literature is the poor selection of culturally responsive resources and books (Constantino, 2008; Curtis, 2007; van der Linden, Bartlett, & Beheshti, 2014). Children in lower socio-economic neighborhoods may lack access to school libraries well-stocked with the necessary materials. There is a poor selection of books and many schools have less than the recommended amount of books per child putting them in the “at-risk” category according to standards for a strong school library (Abilock, 2005). They are spending far below the recommended amount to increase collection size. This leads to the sentiment that there wasn’t enough variety to interest students or the wait for what did interest them was extreme (Constantino, 2008; Curtis, 2007). Many school libraries lack trained librarians causing libraries to often be closed during convenient hours of the day such as break times, and because of the already small collection, many have discontinued lending out books. On top of the issues already stated, libraries often aren’t effective at attracting students and therefore do not get frequently used (Curtis, 2007).

Although some schools have libraries that are largely unused, there are also problems when school libraries are readily available. There can be a lack of material that fit the reading preferences and interests of the students. There were several reasons that school libraries lacked the preferred materials including perceived inappropriateness, that they were always checked out or never returned, and that there was less funding each year to keep up with the new reading interests of the students (Constantino, 2008; Curtis, 2007; Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999). This creates an environment where students are given the choice between reading outside of their interests, obtaining the material elsewhere, or not reading at all. Unfortunately, for those students who can’t afford to purchase their preferred books, their choice is even more limited resulting in either being forced to read what does not interest them or not reading at all, neither of which helps to promote a healthy reading interest or habit (Worthy et al., 1999).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Literacy: The ability to proficiently read, write, listen, and speak.

Immigrants: Persons who come to live in another country.

Collaboration: The ability to work together for a common purpose.

Impact: The ability to make a difference.

Public Libraries: A library organization established to provide free services to the general public.

Outreach: The act of extending services, benefits, and resources to a community.

Community: Groups of people who live in the same area, share a common culture, and access the same resources.

Education: The process of learning or obtaining knowledge or skill.

Services: Helpful programs that provide some sort of assistance or support.

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