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Refugee and Immigrant Services

Kansas City Public Library

Contact Name: Courtney Lewis,
Type of Initiative: Tenets of Democracy 
Initiative Partners: National Library of Medicine, Jewish Vocational Service


The Kansas City Public Library is now a little more than 2 years into having a Refugee and Immigrant Services & Empowerment Department (RISE).

The Library is a doorway to knowledge for all people in our community. The mission of RISE is to help keep that door open by connecting immigrant populations with the quality services, resources, and lifelong learning opportunities of the Library, through outreach, education, and advocacy.

RISE was started more than 2 year ago when Library leadership recognized a need to serve patrons in the greater Kansas City community who came to the area as refugees and immigrants. When refugees arrive in KC, they have 3 months to find gainful employment and become self-reliant while starting over in a brand new country. That can be a difficult order for even native residents, but Library staff knows it can sound nearly impossible to someone who doesn’t speak English. The department works closely with local resettlement agencies to offer: citizenship classes, computer classes, ESL classes, Money Matters financial literacy classes specifically for immigrants and refugees, resume help and job searches, story times, and obviously free books and other materials. In November 2016, the Library hosted its first ever Naturalization Ceremony, with more than 100 people taking the oath of citizenship, and another 400 watching.

These tools help these patrons with a smooth(er) transition to life in the United States. Librarians often work with refugees and immigrants under the vast umbrella of outreach but the Kansas City Public Library has an entire department, headed by librarian Julie Robinson, that works exclusively with that population, to address specific needs and challenges the immigrant community faces.