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American Dream Starts @ your library, International Storytimes, ESL Classes and Citizenship Workshops & Naturalization Ceremonies at Memphis (TN) Public Library & Information Center

Memphis Public Library & Information Center
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Innovation Summary

To serve the changing demographics of the community, Cordova Library started International Storytimes; received $5,000 American Dream Starts @your library grant; established the English For Me @ Cordova Library; partnered with INS, provided Citizenship Workshops in five branches that culminated with three Naturalization Ceremonies at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Problem Statement

As Memphis becomes more diverse and multi-cultural; there is an increasing need and demand for services from the multicultural and immigrant communities. Cordova Library of MPLIC saw the most diverse customers as the 2010 Census statistics showed that 7.3% of the Cordova Community speaks a language other than English at home. Information staff members regularly receive large numbers of questions from customers whose first language is not English and who need ESL resources. One of the programs they sought out to do is the Citizenship Workshop along with providing International Storytimes, ESL classes, and an expanded foreign language collection. Unlike the INS, libraries are viewed as unintimidating neutral places. Citizenship Workshops started out in Cordova Library and aimed at helping prospective citizens learn about the Naturalization Process, the new Naturalization Test, and Rights and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizenship. These workshops were offered at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and several other branches which resulted in three large Naturalization Ceremonies that were held in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.


MPLIC was the recipient of a grant from the ALA American Dream Starts @ your library imitative that was made possible by a donation of $750,000 from Dollar General Stores. MPLIC was one of the 70 public libraries from across the United States, and the only one in Tennessee that received the $5,000 grant. The purpose of this grant was to help libraries help its residents whose first language is not English. Prior to this grant, Cordova Library’s Youth Services librarian Sharon Evrard had already started a successful International Storytimes. The interactive format features culturally-infused books paired with music, dance, and food from the highlighted country. Evrard says presenting the International Storytimes on select Saturdays is a win-win. Families get to share their heritage and customs while others learn about different cultures. With the grant, Cordova created the English For Me @ Cordova Branch ESL Center that includes not only outstanding print resources but also digital resources, including CDs, DVDs, CD and Book sets, and DVD and Book sets to help people whose first language is not English. The goal is to help these customers learn or improve their English language skills so that they would be able to obtain a higher education level; to get a job; to purchase a home; to address health issues when talking to a doctor or reading prescriptions and to become more adept in using library resources. And, also, to help them become citizens. Free ESL (English as Second Language) classes were offered by two wonderful volunteer ESL teachers, Ryan Bush and Bryce Chandler. From March, 2011 to date, five Citizenship Workshops have been held in Cordova, Bartlett, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, Randolph and Whitehaven branch libraries and three Naturalization Ceremonies being held in Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.


International Storytimes: The series include 44 storytimes covering 34 different countries in 5 continents; averaging 30-40 children and their families in each, with the most recent one celebrating the Philippines, drawing 73 people. ESL Classes at Cordova: Over 50 customers whose first language was not English either learned or improved their English language skills by attending Ryan’s and Bryce’s Free ESL classes. English For Me@ Cordova Branch collection is a valuable resource to the immigrant community because it helps them improve their English skills, become successful in schools, work and in their daily lives. Citizenship Workshops & Naturalization Ceremonies: Over 430 candidates from over 60 different countries have been naturalized and over 1,000 people attended these ceremonies. Library Director Keenon McCloy was the keynote speaker for the ceremonies. The library’s meeting rooms were filled to capacity at each ceremony. Wang-Ying Glasgow, Adult Services Coordinator says, “My job is to coordinate library programs and services. Coordinating naturalization ceremonies is very special and meaningful to me since I myself am a naturalized citizen. Candidates are coming from all corners of the world; this is one of the most important days in their lives. A day they have dreamed of for a long time and a moment that signifies a new beginning in their lives. We are so proud they will forever remember that special day and moment they spent at Memphis Public Library.” MPLIC is proud to be responsive to the changing needs of the community and will continue providing services and programs such as International Storytimes, ESL classes, Citizenship Workshops and Naturalization Ceremonies. We are proud that we have made a difference in the lives of the immigrant population as we strive to maximize our community involvement and civic engagement effort, and therefore, making our libraries more relevant to their customers.