Re-thinking Minnesota’s 21st century libraries

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As Minnesota’s population continues to age and diversify, we must strengthen our public services infrastructure. The Metropolitan Council predicts that by 2040 the Twin Cities metro alone will gain 355,000 people from other nations. Communities in greater Minnesota, like St. Cloud, St. James, Willmar, and Worthington, are also experiencing huge influxes of Latinos and Somalis. By 2020 the state will also have more people 65 and older than school-aged children for the first time in Minnesota’s history, according to a January state demographer’s office presentation.

One public service that stands out as critical in its need to keep up and adapt with the changing demographic demands is the state’s library networks. In this first of a multi-part series, we’ll examine how libraries are positioned to play a huge role in helping foreign-born residents.

Hennepin County Libraries provide a range of resources and classes to newcomers. These include everything from book lending and librarian expertise to computers and internet access. Libraries also offer courses in many different subjects, including basic English, GED prep, and a range of computer skills. In addition, Hennepin County Libraries offer job searching resources, both online and in person, and help residents obtain green cards, visas, and citizenship.

It’s great to see all these services that are available, but it’s even more significant to think about what they could actually mean for someone new to this country. The United States’ culture and experience is enormously different than many of the places new residents are moving from. These drastic changes can be even more alarming when there is a language barrier. Having a space where residents know they are welcome, where they have access to books in their language, as well as the many services listed above, all while being in the presence of a trained librarian could really help someone better adjust to life in the United States.

It is important that we provide these services not just in large metropolitan libraries, but in libraries in every town experiencing a surge of immigration. While libraries are undoubtedly important to all residents, they can serve a special role in the lives of immigrants. We should help them do that.