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How to Be a Cultural Navigator @ Your Library

Hartford Public Library, CT
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Innovation Summary

This strategy utilizes an e-Learning approach to equip volunteers to serve as Cultural Navigators (CN) who are then matched with families to facilitate their transition into the mainstream community. It provides the basis for relationship building noted as a key ingredient for promoting and deepening immigrant civic integration.

Problem Statement

Since 2000 the proportional share of immigrants in the city’s overall population has grown exponentially. Subsequently, the risk of immigrant marginalization and community fragmentation has risen, and thus immigrant integration strategies have become more complex. The current climate requires reaching beyond providing direct services to immigrants such as ESL and Citizenship instruction. Today it is critical to involve the receiving community in supporting immigrants at a level where they feel more connected to and welcomed by the broader community. This innovation is a key component of one of several strategies of an IMLS Leadership Grant designed to promote immigrant civic integration with relationship building at its core.


Key elements of the toolkit include: accessibility (Web based); adaptable by other city libraries; content presented in various interactive modalities and multimedia formats; user-friendly; and learner connectedness with the Library’s resources and collections. This final element ensures continued library usage both by the CNs and their mentees. Critical process steps included: identifying gaps in knowledge regarding immigrant experiences and cultures in the receiving community; identifying subject- area specialists; selecting meaningful content; convening a diverse editorial team; transferring content onto the Moodle platform; continuous piloting, assessing and revising; and, featuring the toolkit on our Library Web site.


Since its fall 2011 launch, more than forty cultural navigators have been effectively trained. The use of the toolkit has demonstrated overtime that it adequately prepares volunteers to serve as Cultural Navigators. Input from the trained CNs enhanced the Editorial Team’s contributions. We discovered that the toolkit is best utilized when supported by on-ground, small group training sessions. These group meetings have also encourages an informal network among the CNs.