Listen to the latest episode of The Living Room with Gerry Bonds. OIC’s Executive Director DesJean Jones and conversational English instructor Ashley Rhone discuss language barriers and challenges for immigrants.
About Oklahoma’s Efforts
According to the American Immigration Council as of 2015, Oklahoma is home to 235,350 immigrants. The foreign-born population in our state increased 65.8% between 2000 and 2013, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As these numbers rise, the need for English language instruction and citizenship and immigration services continues to increase.
To meet this growing need, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, in collaboration with libraries and literacy programs launched a citizenship and immigration project.
Local literacy programs work closely with the public library to provide direction, technology assistance, and free classes or one-to-one tutoring. Participants may review citizenship study materials, practice listening and responding to citizenship interview questions, access online practice tests, and receive guidance throughout the application process.
The term Citizenship Corner is being used across the country to indicate an area designated to serve non-native speakers. Grant sites established Citizenship Corners in ten libraries and one partner location in Oklahoma. These areas are marked with banners and displays and are equipped with computers with bookmarked websites, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services materials, and other materials that may be of interest.
Collaborations between libraries and literacy programs include:
- Great Plains Literacy Council and Southern Prairie Library System, serving Harmon and Jackson counties;
- Cleveland County Literacy Program and Pioneer Library System, serving Norman, Shawnee, and Purcell;
- Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services and Bartlesville Public Library;
- Oklahoma City University, Master of Arts Program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Metropolitan Library System, serving Oklahoma County.
- Rogers County Literacy Council and Claremore Public Library, serving Claremore and Catoosa
- OIC of Oklahoma County
- Duncan Area Literacy Council
Services include citizenship classes, conversation classes, English/Spanish classes, study pairs, one to one tutoring, brochures, and other outreach efforts and community collaborations.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services more than 55 percent of new Americans use the public library at least once a week. They find a trusted environment, resources, and community connections that can ease the way to full participation in American society. For many people, new to the US, libraries serve as a gateway to citizenship, English language learning, and civic engagement. Libraries offer educational materials and training resources on immigration and citizenship. This complicated and lengthy naturalization process is made easier by the combined efforts of literacy programs and libraries in Oklahoma.
The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) which announced a national collaboration with USCIS to enhance the resources available in libraries throughout the country and strengthen the ability of librarians to guide immigrants to the most accurate and current information available. Concerning the national collaboration, former IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said, “We believe this partnership is a critical step toward making knowledge about the immigration process readily available and accessible to immigrant communities throughout the country, easing the process for others to become fellow Americans.” See more on IMLS and immigration.
Duncan Public Library with Duncan Area Literacy Council
Families, friends, community supporters, library and literacy staff, co-workers, government representatives, and newspaper and television crew were on hand to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Citizenship Corner at Duncan Public Library. According to Mary Brancich, director of the Duncan Area Literacy Council, “The Citizenship Corner will provide resources and help for immigrants in our community who want to pursue citizenship.”
The highlight of the celebration was welcoming new citizens Mila, Lupe, Patricia, Lola and Maria. The women have attended English language classes taught by instructor, Nancy Litsch who is a volunteer for the Duncan Area Literacy Council. Litsch recognized the desire of the women to become citizens and expanded the class to include citizenship instruction.
The new citizens are long-time residents of Duncan and have contributed to the community as employees at the hospital, Legal Shield, eldercare and as business owner and community volunteer. They are looking forward to being able to fully participate in community affairs and anticipate being able to cast their first vote in the November elections.
Representative Marcus McEntire commended the library and literacy council for seeing the needs of immigrants in Duncan. He presented proclamations to each of the new citizens.
The Citizenship Corner project is supported in whole or in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act and is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Edmond Public Library
The spring semester of citizenship classes closed with a celebration of students, presenters, and sponsors. Dr. Robert Griffin, professor of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Oklahoma City University presented certificates of accomplishment to immigrants for completing the class. Citizenship instructors, who are master’s level students of Dr. Griffin, were recognized for providing 70 hours of citizenship instruction to satisfy practicum requirements for their degree.
Certificates of appreciation were also presented to staff members of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries for support of the project.
Judy Tirey, the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) coordinator at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, participated by taking the citizenship test along with the class participants.
Southern Oaks Library
May 3 marked the end of the fall session of citizenship classes at Southern Oaks Library. Following the final assessment of learners who had participated in the project, the celebration began. Librarian Phil Tolbert presented the participants with a portfolio as a gift from the library and instructed participants to keep their documents safe and organized. Dr. Robert Griffin, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) instructor at Oklahoma City University, presented certificates of accomplishment to immigrants and certificates of appreciation to library staff and volunteers. After the certificates were presented, everyone enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner complete with a red, white, and blue cake.
Two years ago, the Metropolitan Library System branch developed a Citizenship Corner to promote the services it provides to non-native speakers and has hosted citizenship classes since that time. The welcoming atmosphere and friendliness of the library staff has encouraged attendance and growth of the program.
Instructors for the class are from Oklahoma City University, enrolled in the master’s program for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages under the direction of Dr. Griffin. The TESOL program requires a practicum of 70 hours of instruction.
The library has added an unexpected benefit to the program—children’s activities, under the direction of Librarian Tolbert, encouraged families to visit the library together. The children are engaged in a craft while parents attend class. Another welcoming feature while promoting the library!
After a short break, classes will resume June 6.
This project is a collaboration between the library and university and is funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.