When it comes to moving, military families know all the ins and outs. The average military family will move every two to three years, and each year, hundreds of thousands of military families across the country move to new communities. Whether it’s their first or final assignment, all of these families have the same hopes for a welcoming and inclusive community that will provide the connections they can count on to achieve a sense of belonging.
These connections exist within the military community but also externally – through community services, word-of-mouth suggestions, positive experiences, and ultimately the way the local area ensures families are welcome and included. With nearly 70% of military families living outside their base or installation, the need for community-based solutions for incoming military families into civilian communities becomes even more vital.
What does it mean to find a sense of community, though? Feeling welcomed or a sense of belonging can take different forms. However, when families arrive to a new community that’s ready to embrace them with crucial local services, supportive neighbors, inclusive and welcoming spaces, and community-centered resources, the opportunities for military families to achieve that sense of belonging significantly increase.
Libraries as a Means of Connectivity
In an increasingly digital world, it can sometimes be a challenge to find a place in a new community to connect with people and find services. If you’re feeling the same, look no further than your public library.
Public libraries serve as a central community hub – a welcoming place for newcomers looking to connect with people, opportunities, and resources. Many military families may already look to spaces like their local library to find these characteristics of a supportive community. But what if even more families naturally looked to their library as one of the first stops for a warm welcome and an introduction to the neighborhood?
Libraries have a unique opportunity to transform individuals and their entire communities, and amazing potential to support them. Whether a new military family with young children is introduced to a social circle through storytimes and children’s programming, a teen finds meaningful pathways to a potential career path through connected learning, or a spouse finds the support they need to locate work in their new community, the library builds community, sparks inspiration, and empowers new skills. Additionally, librarians are skilled at making connections, whether it’s for a child trying to find just the right story to read, a student needing help with a school project, or someone looking to explore new directions in their life. And libraries are one of the few places in today’s world that offer these resources and services for free! For those reasons, libraries have amazing potential to support the resilience of communities and individuals – especially military-connected families – through creating spaces centered around belonging and inclusivity.
The Usefulness of Library Collections
When people think of libraries, the collections often come to mind first. While they still provide books, magazines, and DVDs, library collections have blossomed in the past decade with the addition of ebooks, audiobooks, and streaming videos that can be accessed 24/7. Public libraries are also now offering collections of games, puzzles, craft activities, and more for kids and adults. Additionally, you can find collections of tools for the hobbyist or do-it-yourselfer.
Libraries also offer a wealth of online resources for learners of all ages. From students looking for research for school to genealogists to job seekers, a library card will connect you with what you need. Resources include VetNow, an online tool available from all public libraries through the Library of Virginia, which offers an “all-in-one suite of services designed for a wide range of veteran needs whether it’s updating a resume for civilian life, navigating the VA system, or seeking local resources and support for veterans and their families. VetNow services include expert coaching and self-study tools to empower users. Users may access live, on-demand assistance from expert Job Coaches or Veteran Navigators.”
Where to Start
So how do you get started with these great collections, programs, and services? The first step is to locate your local public library. The Library of Virginia’s Public Library Directory is the place to start within the state of Virginia. If you are not in Virginia, your state library should have a directory where you can locate your local library. Once you’ve found yours, the next step will be to get a library card. Most libraries will need you to bring a photo ID and proof of local residence. A driver’s license can often satisfy both conditions, but you may want to check with the library before your visit to confirm what they require. A parent or guardian signature may be required to get children’s cards. And once you have your card, you’re set to place holds and check out library materials, access online content, and more.
The public library can absolutely be a primary source for forming community, feeling welcomed, and finding that sense of belonging we all seek in a new location. With all it has to offer – space, programs, resources, and social connections – a relationship with the library opens up a welcoming world of possibilities and inspiration for military families serving across the country and around the world.
Library of Virginia and Blue Star Families
The Library of Virginia is excited to be working collaboratively with Blue Star Families to help connect military families with their local Virginia public libraries and the great resources that they offer. Among other projects, Blue Star Families is promoting the VetNow resource, available through Virginia public libraries through Find It VA, to all their members, encouraging military families and veterans to get their local library card in order to access all the great VetNow opportunities. LVA’s Library Development and Networking Division sent all the public libraries information on Blue Star Welcome week (the first week of October) and encouraged libraries to plan programming around welcoming military families to their communities during that time. We also worked with Blue Star Families to develop a list of contacts at Virginia military installations to whom public libraries can reach out to develop local relationships.
According to the Department of Defense, Virginia is home to 124,195 active-duty service members, 53,561 active-duty spouses, and 106,039 active-duty children. Connecting these families with library resources that will ease their transition into new communities is an essential role for public libraries. The partnership between the Library of Virginia and Blue Star Families is an opportunity to reach this unique population and connect them to Virginia’s outstanding libraries.
-Barry Trott, MSLS, Library of Virginia, and Nicole Rawlinson, MLIS, Blue Star Families