Library Services for Refugees

Since their very beginnings German libraries, like their counterparts in many other countries, had refugees among their audience. However, due to an unprecedented increase of people fleeing to Germany from discrimination, violence and war, an urgent need for more substantial and specific services to this vulnerable community has emerged.

In the context of an initiative by IFLA's Public Library Section, its German member Sarah Dudek from Central and Regional Library Berlin has collated a range of good practice examples from basic to advanced and from Hamburg to Munich, providing them with brief descriptions in English.

Numerous public libraries in Germany have intercultural collections such as books in many different languages, German language courses, information material to get along in everyday-life in Germany, collections of world music and films. Some libraries alter their collections in 2015 in order to be relevant to the newly arrived refugees who stem mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.

There are already diverse intercultural services available to migrants in German libraries such as language cafés, German courses (often led by volunteers), library tours for migrants and special target groups such as unaccompanied minors.

Some libraries provide free library cards, but most libraries require a certificate of registration which newly arrived refugees do not have. It is always possible though to use the media within the public library, in many libraries also the computers with internet access and/or wi-fi.

The Comittee on Intercultural Library Work of the German Library Association (dbv) has produced a short animated film introducing newcomers to the basic services and features of a library. For the purpose of avoiding language barriers, the film does not use speech but is largely self-explanatory. Moreover, in order to work for as many cultures as possible, the film's characters are abstract, neither featuring gender nor ethnic attributes.

The Consortium of Public Libraries in Berlin (VÖBB) is the first German library consortium which provides library cards to refugees without demanding an official certificate of registration. A temporary resident permit or a certificate of the accommodation facility is sufficient. Refugees are allowed to check out items from any public library in Berlin and access digital services such as e-books and music streaming. More information (in German)

The Humboldt University of Berlin invites refugees to join lectures and seminars as guest auditors and provides an advisory service once a week for guest auditors. The University Library provides free access to all library services, e. g. text books for German as a foreign language and free internet access.

Bochum City Library has expanded its collection in different languages and the media for German language acquisition using the slogan “Books saying welcome!” The library is supported by  the local book trade with regard to book acquisition for the welcome-collection and has decorated its branch libraries accordingly. There are events for volunteers (and refugees) taking place in the library in order to provide an introduction to the offers of the library focussing especially on the collection in other languages and media for German language acquisition. The library invites people in refugee centers to the library and its free events, especially children with an accompanying person. The library approaches all local kindergartens and schools as well so that all refugee children get to know the library.  Additional information (in German)

Hamburg's Public Libraries runs a campaign entitled „Refugees welcome“: a student prints the slogan on t-shirts and sweaters and sells them online. The money is donated to the library programme „Dialogue in German“. More than 200 volunteers are involved, offering more than 80 hours a week in German classes for migrants in 33 libraries in Hamburg. Furthermore, the library cooperates with the literature festival Harbour Front which spreads the donation appeal at every festival event. All branch libraries have contacted the social management of shelters for asylum seekers/the refugee centres in their district. Summer parties of the shelters are used as an opportunity to get in touch with refugees and to disseminate information on library programs. Hamburg Public Library provides online library cards to refugees financed by private donations. Apart from WiFi-access the online library card gives access to e-books in many different languages, music streaming and e-learning-courses of the library.  The Hamburg Public Library features many intercultural services and collections which are currently updated in order to match with the background of the newly arrived refugees. Additional information (in German)

Cologne City Library opened the Intercultural Library Forum close to the Central Library. It is a meeting point and learning facility for people from abroad as well as for people who are interested in intercultural exchange. It is especially a meeting point for the great variety of local welcome initiatives. In cooperation with these the Intercultural Library Forum aims at providing a diverse event programme, e.g. library introductions, initial information, a variety of consultation service, homework support, and multilingual readings for refugee children. The space can be used for group work as well as for individual study and support of volunteers who are godparents for extracurricular mentoring of refugee children or mentors for refugee families. The Forum contains group workstations as well as individual workstations, a reading lounge, a collection of media for German language acquisition, alpha studio, computers, a projector, and audio stations. The Intercultural Forum is run by volunteers in close cooperation with Cologne Public Library and is open every day except Sundays. The place can be used by volunteer initiatives outside opening hours. The Forum bundels already existent offers such as: information events for volunteers and welcome initiatives, information material for volunteers for German language support, media boxes, and multilingual readings for refugee children. Cologne Public Library has a programme for integration courses including library tours for the attendees and a free library card for three month. Additional information (in German)

Leipzig's Public Libraries cooperates with the Refugee Council Leipzig in the programme “Arriving in Leipzig”: the seminars for volonteers take place in the library. The volunteers get to know how refugees can use the library as a place of culture, education, and information focussing especially on language acquisition. Additional information (in German)

The International Youth Library in Munich has workshops for pupils from newly founded refugee classes and pupils from regular classes. It aims to get the children to know each other and to expand the knowledge of each other's cultural background of each other. Additional information (in German)

Bremen City Library provides media boxes with content in five languages to homes for asylum seekers. The project is financed by the Bremen Senate. Additional information (in German)

Duisburg City Library opened the „International Children's Library“ in 2011. The collection contains about 6.000 items in 17 different languages. The collection „Arriving in Germany“ offers information from migrant communities, cultural projects, and many other institutions, but also material for self study of the German language and life in Germany. The library provides a Language Café as well: refugees and volunteers get in touch drinking coffee or helping each other with language issues.

Duisburg Public Library started a pilot in 2015: a teaching unit called “German lesson in the library” for adolescent refugees. They get to know the library as well as learn about everyday life of German youth. The unit aims at reading and media literacy and German language acquisition—partly in cooperation with authors and artists (e.g. writing workshops). Additional information (in German)

Erlangen Public Library offers library tours which are altered depending on the attendees. The library provides language boxes: media for self study of the German language. Pupils of a special class for refugees has gotten a collection of books in different languages from the library. Additional information (in German)

 The Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg has a project called “Orientation on the study programme for refugees and asylum seekers”. It aims at preparing refugees for studying at the university so that they can start right away after the recognition procedures and the required German language course. It contains a orientation consultation, a student advisory service session, an intensive German language course, the attendance of selected free lectures, and a buddy-programme.

The University Library of Erlangen-Nuremberg gives free library cards to the attendees providing access to all kind of analogue and digital media and the internet. There are guided library tours and library introductions for the attendees as well.

Essen City Library asks for donations for refugees. People can bring books, games, CDs etc. to the library which distributes them to refugee centers.

Nuremberg Public Library visualized the information on using the library and has multilingual glossaries. Residents get a free library card. Additional information (in German)

The Nuremberg Asylothek is a small library founded by volunteers in a home for asylum seekers in 2012. It grew to a educational hot spot: German language courses, homework mentors and many more services are provided by volunteers. Additional information (in German)

The Hof Asylothek is a project similar to the Nuremberg Asylothek: volunteers built a library for refugees and provide German language courses aiming at empowering the refugees for every-day life. Additional information (in German)

Wilhelmshaven Public Library provides free library cards for refugees without demanding an official certificate of registration. A certificate of the accommodation facility is sufficient. It is possible to check out books and other items with the library card.

The Straubing Public Library provides media boxes to homes for asylum seekers. The boxes contains media for individual study of the German language, picture books, hidden object books, and board games. The library has a collection for non-German speakers as well.

They plan to install computers with arabic keyboard, headphones and microphones, German courses, and other material which might be relevant for asylum seekers in the library.

Dinslaken's Public Library used their revenues of a book sale to acquired a new welcome-collection from the refugee centre Fliehburg which is close to Dinslaken. The collection contains board games, language courses, children's books, literature in simple German, and multilingual books on Dinslaken and its region. The collection was given as a permanent loan to the refugee centre hoping it will make the people want to come to the public library in the city centre. A Language Café for volunteers and refugees was initiated in cooperation with the education centre and a professional moderator. 

The Catholic Public Library Erbach offers writing workshop for children in primary school, among them also refugees, since 2013. In cooperation with the Foreign Office and a publishing house a free e-book by 120 young authors – 5 from Erbach – on the topic „My Home, Your Home“ was published containing stories of the kid's flight to Germany.Additional information (in German): Bisdom news release; press release of the Foreign Office; e-book

The Municipal Library Norderstedt provides library tours for asylum seekers and free library card for three months. The library collaborates with the union “Welcome team”: they offer events for refugees in which they provide help with the paperwork. Additional information (in German)

In Hückeswagen's Public Library volunteers hold German courses for refugees twice a week.

Community Library Echzell built an “Asylothek” within the library, entirely funded by donations. It provides material to refugees and refugee aid workers.

The Public Library Germering collaborates with the city's integration commissioner. The regular event “Living diversity” takes place in the public library: it is a workshop for refugees and volunteers in order to get to know each other and get information. The library has printed leaflets about the library and its services in different languages and/or with pictograms.

The Public Library Lauf (a. d. Pegnitz) made a book donation to a home for asylum seekers. The library gives free library cards to asylum seekers as well as library tours. The library acquired material for German language courses in consultation with the adult education center and volunteers.

The Municipal Library Villingen-Schwenningen provides free library cards and special library tours for asylum seekers. The library takes part in the district's “cultural walk for refugees” in which refugees get to know the cultural offers in the neighborhood.Different events took place: reading sessions, an event for promoting art and language to refugee children. The library enlarged its German language collection and uses media boxes focusing on language acquisition for refugees of the regional education office. 

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