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At Massanutten Regional Library (MRL), one of the principal ways we serve refugees and immigrants is through accepting I-94 forms, and/or foreign driver’s licenses as a photo ID for library registration purposes.  Through communication with our partners, we know there is a shortage of housing within our community, and our circulation staff know to accept temporary addresses for these new arrivals.

Building on that, the nonprofit Church World Service (CWS) and our welcoming faith communities in the area have helped establish Harrisonburg as a designated Refugee Resettlement area.  In partnership with CWS Harrisonburg, we work with their orientation teams and interpreters to provide tours of the library space and an explanation of the materials and services available to all of our patrons.  During these tours, many bring their documents and receive library cards immediately.  For children and caregivers, we recently received the Welcome Neighbor collection from I’m Your Neighbor Books, which helps kids explore stories of immigrant and New Generation families and is offered in multiple languages.  We also collaborate closely with Harrisonburg Public Schools and their Family Resource Center through field trips, outreach visits, and more.

There are over 70 languages represented in the Harrisonburg Public School System and our language learning resources are a strength at MRL.  We provide free access to Rosetta Stone and Pronunciator, as well as our Library of Virginia-provided access to Transparent Language.  In addition, we provide spaces, tours, and tutorials on our services to learners of English enrolled with our partners Massanutten Technical Center and Skyline Literacy.

“Wednesday afternoons are a delight because I get to spend it with some beautiful people from our immigrant community,” says librarian Felicia DiSalvo. “The English Conversation Club is a personal passion project for me, as someone who saw her parents’ struggle speaking English and navigating American systems; I know firsthand the importance of empowering others to realize their potential.  It brings me great joy watching our students engage with one another and expand their vocabulary.  They proudly let me know when they have used new expressions and words outside of class.”

“We may be providing a safe, non-judgmental space to learn, but it is the students themselves that make it a warm and supportive environment for each other.  Not only are they improving their English, but cultivating new friendships with others from different cultural backgrounds…PLUS they are learning about all the wonderful things the library has to offer them and their families!”

In September, MRL also collaborated with CWS Harrisonburg to host a book club discussion of a novel telling the stories of refugees from Afghanistan, When the Moon is Low, with guest virtual appearance by author Nadia Hashimi.  Guests also learned how CWS welcomes refugees and newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley and ways for the community to be involved in this welcoming work.  We hope to continue and expand this event annually.  Looking ahead to January, we have one of our own students in the Conversation Club, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces, who will be showcasing his books during a Bilingual Author Discussion.

We’ve also worked to build other programs and offerings for refugees as well.  For instance in our print collections, we have refreshed and expanded our adult offerings in Spanish.

This is just the beginning.  There will always be more that we can do in this area, such as expanding our brochures and marketing, as well as our collections to languages beyond Spanish, such as Arabic, Kurdish, and Russian.  We’ll continue to do what we can to make the library a welcoming space for all.

-Zach Elder, Director, Massanutten Regional Library & Felicia DiSalvo, Reference Librarian, Massanutten Regional Library

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