Libraries are welcoming spaces for everyone

This year, Welcoming Week is Sept. 13-22 and KCLS will offer a variety of programs that affirm one’s sense of belonging.

King County Library System is committed to inclusion – the idea that public libraries belong to everyone. It is one of our core values and means that all residents, regardless of age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, are welcome to explore and enjoy all that KCLS has to offer.

The Welcoming Center at Kent Library is a perfect example of KCLS’ commitment to inclusivity. Funded by the KCLS Foundation, the Welcoming Center­ provides immigrants and refugees access to information to help them adjust to living in a new community. An essential component of the Welcoming Center are Welcoming Ambassadors, former immigrants themselves who answer questions and connect new residents to legal, financial, employment, and language-learning resources to get them started on their path to citizenship.

Ambassadors help with things as ordinary as obtaining a driver’s license or navigating school systems to more serious issues, such as providing assistance to someone fleeing domestic abuse or an exploitive situation. Equally important, the Welcoming Center offers a safe and inviting place for newcomers to meet and connect with others through programs such as Family Social Time held monthly.

KCLS also participates in Welcoming Week, a national campaign that aims to create communities of inclusion by fostering a spirit of unity among our country’s newest arrivals and long-time residents. This year, Welcoming Week is Sept. 13-22 and KCLS will offer a variety of programs that affirm one’s sense of belonging. “Becoming American” for instance is a film discussion series that focuses on immigrant experiences through different lenses. One film entitled “Welcome to Shelbyville” explores how long-time residents of a small Tennessee town have integrated into their community the hundreds of Somali refugees who have been hired by the local Tyson chicken processing plant. “My American Girls” looks at a hardworking immigrant couple living frugally in Brooklyn who dream of retiring to their native Dominican Republic, contrary to what their American-born daughters have in mind.

The screenings are an hour or less in length and are followed by a facilitated discussion.

With more than 20 resident populations in King County that have limited English proficiency, KCLS offers ESL classes and Story Times in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Amharic, and Russian. Throughout the year, KCLS celebrates our country’s diversity with featured programming during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Autism Awareness Month, Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Pride Month to name a few. Our patrons have attended programs ranging from “Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors” to Christian music sing-alongs. KCLS also hosts programs for veterans, book clubs for home-schoolers, and “Coffee with a Cop” community conversations.

King County Library System serves 1.4 million residents in 34 cities, towns, and unincorporated areas across King County, which continues to grow in both population and diversity. Having recently completed a 15-year capital improvement program, KCLS’ new and renovated libraries are designed to bring communities together, providing a place where people from all walks of life can create meaningful connections.

A place where all are welcome.

Lisa Rosenblum is director of the King County Library System.

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