Libraries have a "major" role to play in welcoming refugees, CILIP has said following the government’s announcement that 20,000 people will be arriving in the country over the next five years.
In a blog post, CILIP outlined that libraries are an "important" source of information and "key" to signposting refugees to other local services. It also emphasised that school libraries play a "major role in supporting refugee children as they find their way around their new country.”
The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Libraries (ASCEL) issued a welcome statemant saying that public libraries are “safe, trusted spaces” that are able to offer a “range of vital free services for new arrivals in local communities across the country.” They said: “Libraries enable people to connect in new communities and remain connected to the communities and loved ones that they left behind.”
The SCL and ASCEL also extended this welcome to the existing 150,000 refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people who are currently in the country.
Library leaders have confirmed that the support for newly arrived people includes free access to computers and wi-fi, free access to materials to learn English and access to physical and online resources in other languages, and free activities and reading resources for children and families.
There will also be community spaces to use for learning and networking, signposting to council services including local education, health and wellbeing services, and access to a trained workforce who will be to help with access to information and resources.
Sarah Mears, chair of ASCEL, said that is "vital" that children who have been through "such traumatic experiences" can "learn to feel safe again" and that they are "well supported to thrive in their new communities." She added: "Public libraries as safe, trusted and inspiring places within local communities have a huge role to play in welcoming new arrivals and giving all children and their families the help they need to start their new lives”.
Ciara Eastell, SCL president, said: “Public library staff are committed to helping and supporting people, it is what they are trained to do, and they do it with a high degree of sensitivity and compassion. There is no other place that has all of the vital resources and information under one roof, along with a comfortable place to sit, read, or rest. Libraries are ready to help new arrivals to the UK.”
Many libraries are already undertaking work that helps and supports refugees. Suffolk Libraries have a Chat and Chill group which meets weekly for women to meet and make new friends. There are over 17 languages spoken and staff help the women learn English and acquire basic skills. Swansea Libraries are using their spaces as donation centres, for the public to bring in supplies for refugees.
These examples build on the approaches developed by the Welcome To Your Library project (WTYL) which ran from 2003-2007 and won the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award in 2007. WTYL was a national project that connected libraries with refugees and asylum seekers that aimed to “nurture learning, well-being, and a sense of belonging for all.”