Notes on Successful Partnerships to Serve Immigrant Communities Today #PLA12

This session was led by Loida Garcia-Febo, Coordinator of the New Americans Program, and Fred Gitner, Assistant Director of the New Americans Program. They both operate out of the Queens Public Library in NY.


They started out by giving us statistics from the nation and NY on the foreign-born populations.
In the nation, 13% of the total population is foreign-born and 35% of that happened since 2000. 56% of them are not citizens. There is a 19% poverty rate and 34% lack health insurance. Fred referred to Queens as the “Ellis Island of the 21st century” because of the two airports there. In Queens alone, 48% of it’s population is foreign-born, with 30% of that since 2000. 48% are not citizens.


There were a few ways that they formed partnerships:
– Community fairs
– Community press announcements of local events
– local information section of general press
– ethnic media


There are 3 large initiatives they do/did:
– Consumer health
– financial literacy
– immigrant integration


Consumer health:
Their main program is English for your health, which teaches things like the language necessary to navigate the health care system and preventative health knowledge. They will teach basics like body parts, describing symptoms, and at level 7, reading medicine labels and using the Internet to find health information.

* you can find their health literacy curriculum on their website


They also have QL health link, which increases access to cancer screening and care. They have a health resources center with a medical librarian, organize health fairs and health-related programs, brochures and flyers and booklists of health topics in Spanish, Chinese, Bengali and Haitian Creole.


Another method of increasing this access is their mammography van that screens for cancer. The greatest thing about it is that if something is found, they receive treatment for free. They also give service regardless of immigration status.


Financial literacy:
Have classes, collections and videos in 6 languages for teaching financial skills. They do this thanks to partnerships with organizations for each community (ex: Asian Americans for Equality, NICE (Spanish) and Chhayacdc (Bengali).
It ended last year but they also partnered with the NYC Dept. Of Consumer Affairs for free one-on-one counseling.


Immigrant integration initiatives:
This program includes:
– Citizenship information
– naturalization exam practice
– ways to get green card
– mock naturalization interviews to demystify the process


For this, they partner with the Center for Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA)
It started in 2008 with a grant and they give workshops in English (need to speak English to become citizen). They also get a lawyer to come and review forms, an ESOL Civics teacher to teach and review exam questions.


In this area, they partner with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). I guess in the past they were seen as a bad thing for immigrants, but they separated the enforcer and the citizenship part.


The results of all their work are:

– Increased awareness
– increased library use
– the library is seen as a community center open to all
– increased scope of services
– their partners receive exposure; provide publicity and space for them
– develop lifelong library habit
– celebrate variety of cultures


This doesn’t happen quickly and the goal of the library is to been seen as another community service agency.


Tools to see what demographic needs services:
(needs to be at least 3,000 people speaking the language for them to begin catering to that population)

– have a demographic specialist on staff
– city planning partnership
– list of top languages in the city


There was an audience question about how to reach different cultures about sensitive topics, specifically women.  The trick is the wording; tweak the wording. For example:

– To talk to women about domestic violence, have an event to celebrate women

– Talk about skin cancer, talk about keeping or maintaining beauty

– Get women together to do an activity (sewing) and give information about health, etc.


There was a question about low attendance for the attendee’s library for a financial literacy program.


Financial literacy means different things for different cultures, so you have to be aware of what you’re teaching to each culture


Question about what to do for small libraries in small towns with sparse resources

– webjunction
– locate a key member within the cultural community
– can contact presenters for information


There was an employee of the USCIS in the audience who applauded all the Queens library had done and mentioned an immigration toolkit available at

Libraries get 1 free copy


Last question was if you should get a professional to teach citizenship test prep or if a librarian could do it.

Fred Gitner replied “yes of course, librarians can do anything.”


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