Libraries as Centers of Safety, Empathy, and Affirmation

ALA Panel | Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals

In her introduction to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference panel “Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals,” I’m Your Neighbor co-founder, Anne Sibley O’Brien voiced the pain and rage of the last year “for all who are concerned about immigrants.”

“For all who are concerned about immigrants, it’s been a horrendous month in a terrible year: We still face a Muslim ban, the loss of DACA, and the Syrian refugee crisis, to name a few challenges. Anti-immigrant sentiment is rampant. And most recently and overwhelmingly, there’s the plight of asylum-seeking families along our southern border, and the more-than-2000 children who’ve been torn from the shelter of their parents’ arms and herded into cages, and whose future is unknown. We are heartsick, enraged, and grieving.
In the midst of these realities, I would like to offer an invitation: Let us spend this hour together building a collective vision — as a concrete antidote — of welcoming, appreciation, and support for migrant people, their losses, their struggles, and their gifts, whether they’ve just arrived at our borders or have been building their lives as Americans for a generation or more.
Let us imagine our libraries as centers of safety, empathy, and affirmation, where the children of immigrants and refugees — and all their classmates — can thrive, building community together.”  —Anne Sibley O’Brien, Author, Illustrator, I’m Your Neighbor co-founder


Panelists included retired Jefferson Parish school librarian and current library consultant Terry Young, author Uma Krishnaswami, author Bao Phi, and illustraor Thi Bui, Caldecott Honor recipient for A Different Pond. These panelists are dedicated contributors to children’s literature who can speak to serving immigrant students. Through children’s literature, students and families of all backgrounds can create welcoming spaces and fascinating learning experiences. This panel discussion “unpacked” the immigrant experience in the classroom and library by examining language and culture as both barrier and opportunity, and ways teachers, librarians, and fellow students can help new arrivals not only fit in, but thrive and become teachers themselves.