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Immigrant Integration Initiative

Jacksonville Public Library
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Innovation Summary

The Jacksonville Public Library (JPL), through its Center for Adult Learning, has partnered with local resettlement agencies to deliver support services to refugees. By moving Cultural Orientation from the relative isolation of resettlement facilities and into the public library, refugees discover relationships and resources vital to their integration and economic self-sufficiency.

Problem Statement

As with many areas of the country, northeast Florida has experienced immigration trends that demand a less homogenous approach to library programs and service delivery. Hispanic and Asian populations have doubled in Jacksonville over the past decade. Jacksonville has a large Filipino population (associated with our military bases), and is home to the tenth-largest Arab population in the country. As one of the nation's top 30 cities for resettlement, more than 1,200 refugees immigrate to Jacksonville each year from Cuba, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Sudan.

In 2009, JPL became a member of the Refugee Task Force to learn about the needs of local refugees. The Task Force (Lutheran Social Services, World Relief, Catholic Charities, and the Department of Children and Families) was concerned about the lack of community engagement and limited support systems available to refugees. Refugees must learn English, acquire basic life skills, become familiar with U.S. culture, develop marketable skills, and secure employment in a short period of time; most refugees lose their benefits and access to case management within 120 days of arrival. Those with limited English skills tend to remain isolated and struggle to adjust on their own, particularly refugees who have little knowledge of Western culture. To compound the problem, refugees are typically settled in low-income housing areas where crime, poverty, and racial tensions add to their feelings of fear and isolation.

As the relationship between JPL and the resettlement agencies developed, it became clear that the Library’s English language classes, workforce development resources, computer training, and children’s programs were not being accessed by refugees in dire need of these resources. Reaching and effectively serving non-native populations at the library became a priority.


In 2009, the Library was asked by the Refugee Task Force to host a naturalization ceremony on World Refugee Day. In the months that followed, the Library joined the Task Force and participated in training sponsored by DCF to better understand the diverse populations settling in Jacksonville and the challenges they face. In 2010, the Center for Adult Learning (CAL) began hosting weekly computer classes for Burmese and Bhutanese refugees; these workshops were taught by a bilingual volunteer from Catholic Charities. CAL was then asked by World Relief to help deliver Cultural Orientation to new arrivals; both World Relief and JPL agreed that holding the sessions at the library would connect refugees with library resources and help meet their long-term educational needs.

We decided to pilot the project first with Spanish-speaking refugees, the largest language group being resettled in Jacksonville. With the help of World Relief, CAL staff developed Cultural Orientation units in English and Spanish. These units introduce topics such as money management, public education, personal safety, laws, healthcare, housing, transportation, local customs, and technology. The units are presented by bilingual CAL staff; World Relief schedules guest speakers to address specific health or legal questions posed by refugees. All participants tour the library, obtain library cards, practice using self-check machines, and learn how to access public computers. On Fridays, refugees learn how to search the Internet for jobs, create functional resumes, and practice interviewing skills. The topics and activities are repeated each month to engage new arrivals.

The Library recently received funds to acquire “Language Line”, a telephone interpretation service that will help facilitate communication with refugees regardless of their native language. Laptops and Voice-Over-Internet software will allow CAL instructors to access Language Line support in the classroom and translate Cultural Orientation materials into multiple languages.


Since April 2011, 103 refugees have completed Cultural Orientation at the Library; 87% have gone on to enroll in library-based ESL and computer classes. Forty-three refugees have found employment. CAL’s ESL classes also grew by 32% during this same time as families and neighbors of refugees learned more about library services. The significance of this initiative is that it has positioned the Jacksonville Public Library to serve as a bridge between the temporary support provided by resettlement agencies and successful integration of refugees in their new homeland. For low-income individuals and families, the public library can be fundamental to economic self-sufficiency. The public library is typically the one place residents can go to access the Internet, search for jobs, create a resume, borrow educational materials, complete online courses, practice occupational exams, apply for benefits, and learn to use new technologies at no cost. The limited English skills of immigrants are often seen as a significant barrier to their use of libraries, yet a library’s failure to identify and modify services to reach non-native populations is perhaps the greatest barrier of all.

As the visibility of refugees and their families began to increase within the Library, JPL employees began modifying other services and programs to be more inclusive. Children’s programs are now offered in several other languages; computer classes for the general public are offered in Spanish and Tagalog; cultural heritage events are held at branch libraries that reflect and include diverse groups living in surrounding neighborhoods; the Library invested in an online language course (BYKI â Transparent Language) to provide distance learning opportunities for non-English speaking library customers. The Library as a whole continues to find ways to invite, serve, and celebrate all of the residents of Jacksonville. It remains an ongoing process of the highest priority.