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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. The Library Development and Networking Division of the Library of Virginia (LVA) is delighted to once again be working with Blue Star Families to connect military families with the great resources at their local public libraries.

Most military families find themselves moving every two to three years, and it can be tough to start over in a new community. With each move comes the same concerns—finding local services, meeting new neighbors, connecting with schools and other resources for kids, and most of all, developing a sense of belonging to a welcoming and supportive community.

While connections within the military community can help ease these concerns, the local public library is another key resource to connect military families with their new communities. Blue Star Families was founded by military spouses in 2009 to empower these families to thrive as they serve. Blue Star Welcome Week, 9/23-10/1, is an opportunity for communities to “help their military families feel more welcome.” The Library Development and Networking Division at LVA is working to connect Blue Star Families and public libraries across the state to encourage programs and services that support and sustain military families.

Virginia Libraries Supporting Military Families

We have heard from several Virginia libraries about how they are supporting military families in their communities.

Prince William Public Libraries (PWPL) has an ongoing partnership with Hylton Performing Arts for the Veterans and the Arts Series, which provides programs for active and retired military and their families. Since 2014, Veterans and the Arts has provided “free, hands-on workshops, art exhibitions featuring Veterans’ artwork, and concerts for our local Veterans, Service members, and military family members (including military partners and kids),” reaching over 14,000 people. Hylton Performing Arts offers their Veterans and the Arts Initiative at select PWPL locations in fall and spring.  They coordinate the presenters and cover costs while the library provides advertising and meeting space.

The Poquoson Public Library will be hosting a “Welcome Neighbor!” event on September 28 to connect local military families with library resources and the community during Blue Star Welcome Week. “Whether you are a military or civilian family, all are invited for a night of food and fun as we get to know each other with games and activities. Registration is required and opens August 31.”

With the City of Norfolk being home to the largest military base in the United States and home to more than a third of military personnel, the citizens of Norfolk know about welcoming military families and building community. Norfolk Public Library is happy to join Blue Star Family in building a thriving community of military families. The Youth Services Department has put together bags filled with goodies and local resources that will be distributed to local military families during Blue Star Welcome Week.

Also at Norfolk Public Library, a couple of branches have recently implemented a partnership with a member of the community who endeavors to close the gap between veterans and their families and civilians.

By hosting the “War and Culture Discussion Group” (WCDG), the libraries serve as a space where military veterans and active duty service members from all eras, backgrounds, and branches of service can connect with civilians or other military-affiliated individuals to listen to and talk about diverse perspectives of war and how they intertwine with various aspects of our culture. WCDG’s vision is to empower military members/veterans and civilians using the restorative power of storytelling using music and films, letters and artifacts, books and documentaries, and share valuable experiences and stories in an effort to understand how they unite us.

Norfolk Public Library Blue Star Welcome Week Goody Bag

Photo Courtesy of NPL

Participants can also offer wartime memories and give others ways to discover and rediscover this common heritage. Representatives from community organizations such as the Department of Veteran Services are often present to provide services and resources available to military members, veterans, and their families. The two library branches currently offering this program are located close to one of Norfolk’s military bases, so many of their patrons are military-affiliated. Participants are encouraged to shape their meetings in ways that best address specific community concerns, so the structure and topics are designed to be as varied as the experiences shared. The library hopes that as this program continues to gain traction, other branches join the ranks so they can support more members of their military community.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library is presenting a Celebrate Blue Star Welcome Week Lunch and Learn on September 29 that discusses library resources for military families. They are also adding Welcome Week info to their Resources for Veterans, Military Members, and Their Families webpage.

Bedford Public Library has several programs to connect military families and veterans with library resources and the community. Permanent book displays featuring “yellow-ribbon” titles show support for active-duty military and also for the families waiting for their safe return.

Bedford also hosts quarterly visits by the Salem Veterans Affairs hospital outreach personnel at our Bedford Central Library.  The Veterans’ Partnership program ensures that every veteran who is eligible for VA health care can access that health care and is aware of resources available to them. Salem VA Healthcare System staff come to the library to provide resources, field questions, address concerns and provide follow up to veterans’ health care needs.

The Lancaster Community Library discovered as part of their strategic planning process, that 10% of their service population are veterans, vs. the 5% national average. In 2022, they hosted a program on November 11th with Walmart donating cupcakes and a kindergarten class making thank you pictures for veterans. This year they are hoping to expand programs for veterans and military families. Alice Cooper, director at Lancaster Community Library notes, “One of our takeaways from last year is that working with veterans and their families is a very careful, sensitive, respectful process.”

Lancaster Community Library Veterans Card-Making Project

Photo Courtesy of LCL

The Loudoun County Public Library started a Veteran’s Club last year that meets quarterly. At the programs, veterans socialize, have refreshments and there is usually a guest speaker who shares information or resources. During Blue Star Week, LCPL is hosting a Veteran’s Fair, inviting a variety of organizations, and showcasing resources that would or could be beneficial for veterans. The staff are working with the county’s veteran program coordinator to access contacts and resources.

The Public Library Builds Connections

As these examples show, public libraries are at the heart of their communities—a welcoming place for newcomers looking to connect with people, opportunities, and resources.

Libraries transform both individuals and communities, and have amazing potential to support them. From introducing a new military family with young children to a social circle through story times and children’s programming, helping a teen find meaningful pathways to school success through library learning resources, or providing a military spouse the support they need to locate work in their new town, the public library builds community, sparks inspiration, and empowers new skills.

Additionally, librarians are skilled at making connections. It could be 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, in each case, and many others, the library supports and sustains its users. Through these actions, libraries develop relationships and build resilience in spaces that celebrate belonging and inclusivity.

Getting Started

So how do you get started with great public library 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. Once you’ve found your library, the next step will be to get a library card. Most libraries will ask 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 is a place for building community, feeling welcomed, and finding that sense of belonging we all seek when we move to a new location. With all it has to offer—space, programs, resources, and social connections—a relationship with your local public library opens up a world of possibilities and inspiration for your family and for military families serving across the country and around the world.

Barry Trott

Adult Services Consultant

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