“Look at this!” Habib waved a shiny new library card across the computer screen, a huge smile on his face. “It was so easy for me to get this, and it’s free! Now I can borrow any book for three weeks or even longer. It’s wonderful!”
Habib is new to Ireland; he fled war-torn Afghanistan just a few weeks ago, but he is really keen to learn. His degree course in Computer Science was cut short, but so far he hasn’t been able to find a college place to improve his English or continue his studies. Discovering the local library has opened up a treasure chest for him; education, reading, internet, online English classes and smiling faces in a warm friendly environment.
Libraries of Sanctuary are committed to celebrating and promoting this culture of welcome and belonging for all newcomers and sanctuary seekers in their area. Habib’s experience of finding sanctuary in a library is typical; when refugees or migrants are still going through the complicated process of sorting out paperwork, GNIB or ID cards and college entrance requirements, libraries are there with open doors and a library card for any resident of the town. Libraries have often responded to the changing demographic by bringing in books in another language, making it easier to use the internet and even providing space for English classes or welcoming events.
All this makes the idea of Libraries of Sanctuary a really obvious stream, and over 50 librarians, Sanctuary Ambassadors and supporters from across the island of Ireland were brought together on zoom by the Library Association of Ireland on 29th December to look at the idea in depth.
This culture of welcome has been developed into an art by Portlaoise, Ireland’s first Library of Sanctuary. The journey and learning involved in being awarded as a Library of Sanctuary was ably described by Suzanne Carroll, with extensive examples of how Portlaoise involved residents of the Direct Provision Centre, Syrian resettled refugees and Eastern European migrants in the journey to making this library a well deserved first on the island. Rosey Kunene movingly described the way Portlaoise library become a real sanctuary for her, a place where she could simply sit and feel warmth and peace, and where her situation and needs were understood. Alexis Ekwueme from Belfast described how the library is often the first port of call for refugees, and the importance of librarians having the skills to be able to communicate effectively with newcomers. John Vincent from UK, the author of the Library of Sanctuary resource book, explained the importance of libraries in creating safety, even when the outside environment is hostile.
The Library Association expressed a willingness to help spread the word, and participants left with a fresh hope of seeing this important stream grown and influence whole communities. The recording and resources are here: You may click here to read or download them.
Portlaoise Library of Sanctuary Presentation could be shared through email if you wish to have a copy of it by sending an email to [email protected]