« Back to Civic & Community Engagement

Immigrant Outreach by the Library's Adult Literacy Students

Providence Public Library, RI
Go to Website

Innovation Summary

The Discovery Guide Program at the Providence Public Library hires adult immigrants enrolled in its literacy program to provide a welcoming presence to families at the library’s Chace Children’s Discovery Library. The Discovery Guides provide outreach to area immigrants to inform them about library programs.

Problem Statement

In Rhode Island, only 20% of fourth grade English Language students scored at or above the proficiency level in reading on standardized tests, compared to 71% of other students. It is critical that immigrant families regularly visit the Library as there is a positive and statistically significant relationship between children’s services in public libraries and early reading success at school. One of the ways to encourage early reading and literacy is through the Chace Children's Discovery Library that opened in January 2012 in partnership with the Providence Children's Museum. The Discovery Library features hands-on activity centers focused on key elements of early childhood literacy development. Although the library staff is eager to help immigrant families build their children’s literacy skills, immigrants are sometimes hesitant to visit the library for various reasons: some families do not know about the resources the library offers, some don’t know the procedures to follow; and others hesitate because of their language barriers. The Discovery Guide Program is designed to: (i) increase the number of immigrant families who view the Library as a free family fun and educational destination resulting in their overall increased use of Library's resources and programs; and (ii) equip immigrant adults with transferable work skills, increased English language and literacy skills and an established US work history.


The Providence Public Library hosts the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI), a literacy program that provides ESL, Citizenship, high school diploma, workplace readiness and digital literacy instruction in five public library systems in the state. The Discovery Guide program trains and hires adult immigrant literacy students enrolled or previously enrolled in RIFLI to serve as "spokespeople" for the Library in immigrant communities. Six Guides have been hired to date and four more will be hired in May 2013. The Guides work 4 hour shifts once a week and are paid a modest hourly wage. They participate in trainings about family literacy strategies and principles. There is close collaboration between library staff and RIFLI staff members. They design and present the training curriculum together. Library staff further trains the Guides “on the job”. The Guides bring the value of not only being multilingual but also being culturally familiar with various immigrant communities. The Guides recruit new immigrant families to the Library and spread the word about the Library to non-native English speakers. The Guides visit adult education and social service agencies, attend community fairs and help to develop the Library's relationships with immigrant communities so that the Library can promote its other programs and resources such as its free computer classes, book groups and small business trainings. The Guides have translated Library information into their respective languages (which totals five and counting). A special Open House held on a Saturday morning welcomed many immigrants who had never visited the library before.


Since the start of the Discovery Guide program, the number of visitors to the Discovery Library has continued to increase. The baby storytime hour has increased so significantly that it now requires that two Discovery Guides be scheduled to help during that time. The Guides have benefited greatly from their training and experience. As a workforce development program, they have become more comfortable and familiar with an American work setting. For most, this is their first work experience in the United States. They have remarked that their English language skills have increased considerably as a result of working with Library staff and English speaking patrons. Since the start of the program, three Guides have entered college classes; one is studying early childhood education because she has enjoyed working with children so much at the Library. Two Guides obtained other part-time jobs in addition to working at the Library. The impact on the Library has been equally significant. Prior to the Guide program, there was only one staff member who was bilingual. The Guides now help support English/Spanish story times. The library and literacy program staff members have a better understanding of each others’ expertise and a real interest in promoting their respective programs. The program has been such a success that the Library has incorporated it into next year’s budget transitioning from grant funds from the National Center for Family Literacy that provided start-up support.