The following is an Interview with Rod Burkett who is the Library Manager of Knight Memorial Library which is located in the neighborhood where many Syrian refugee families were placed.
How well prepared do you think the library was to receive Syrian refugees?
PCL was not prepared. We had no advance knowledge that numbers of new patrons, whose language was Arabic, were arriving in Providence until they started applying for library cards to check out Hot Spots. The library has minimal financial support so even if we had received advanced information, we do not have the financial resources to quickly adapt to changing needs.
The requests to use Hot Spots overwhelmed the staff. Because of a language barrier and the new demand for Hot Spots, it was impossible to continue the procedures to borrow them. This resulted in frustration for both patrons and staff until a new system could be worked out.
What efforts have been made here at Knight Memorial library to engage the refugees in library usage?
Dorcas Place brought an ESL class for a tour of the library. The majority, if not all students, spoke Arabic as their first language. Dorcas arranged to have an interpreter accompany the class, and this was vital to the success of the tour. I work with four libraries so I am not at a KML service desk enough to determine if students on the tour have made repeat visits.
In what ways do you notice the refugees utilizing library services?
Hot Spots are the items most in demand. I am not aware of requests for printed materials in Arabic. As I recall, an Arabic speaking patron asked for Bollywood films so I ordered a few DVDs.
What would be helpful to your library in order to engage these users?
Written instructions in Arabic (effective) would have been helpful to show patrons when they wanted to borrow Hot Spots. I used Google translate to provide instructions, but the interpreter for the Dorcas tour said they were poor.
What plans does the library have to help the Syrian refugees in the future?
I would like to provide some book titles in Arabic. I reached out to one or two local mosques via email to ask for help in choosing a few titles that might be of interest, but I did not receive a response. It is difficult for me to find the time to pursue searching for titles so outside help would be much appreciated.
I don’t have enough money for materials as it is; Knight Memorial has the equivalent of $866 per month to spend on library materials. This includes print (books and periodicals) and DVDs for juvenile, YA and adult patrons, fiction and nonfiction, English and Spanish. I would need to seek outside (grant) funds to acquire books in Arabic.
Do you have any stories you would like to share about your interactions with these patrons?
My interactions have been fine, but I know the Circ Staff has felt frustrated in the lack of ability to communicate with the Syrian patrons. Patrons whose first language is Spanish can be served fairly well at Knight Memorial, and on rare occasions, we have been able to serve patrons whose first language is French. We have served other patrons whose first language is not English, but there has often been someone who could translate for the patron.
I think some basic training in Arabic for staff could have been helpful. If there was knowledge of another influx of Syrian refugees that were expected, it would be good if staff members could be offered very basic language skills to do a patron registration (translated to Arabic would be helpful) and to explain check out, check in, due dates and fines.