Immigrants’ Use of New American and Adult Learner Programs in Queens, NY (2000 - 2003)

Immigrants have substantial informational and practical needs for help with adjusting to life in a new country. Due to differences in language, culture, and other factors such as access, however, new immigrants are a difficult population to study. As a result, little research has examined their predilections from an information behavior perspective.

We report findings from an exploratory qualitative study of how literacy and coping skills programs are used by and benefit the immigrant customers of the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL) in New York City. Using an outcome evaluation approach enriched by its focus on context and Karen Fisher’s (writing as Pettigrew, 1999) information ground theory, our case study involved in-depth interviews and observation with 45 program users, staff and other stakeholders. Via our analysis we derived a grand context (in Pettigrew’s terms) woven from three sub-contexts: the immigrants of Queens, N.Y.; the QBPL, its service model and activities for immigrants; and professional contributions of QBPL staff.


Data Collection Instruments

The “How Libraries and Librarians Help” study series

The Context-based, Outcome Evaluation Toolkit

Publications and presentations from the “How Libraries and Librarians Help” series

As shown in Figure 1, the findings were modeled along two dimensions: (1) building blocks towards information literacy, and (2) personal gains achieved by immigrants for themselves and their families. We found that successful introduction to the QBPL—to its mission, collections, programming, and staff—can lead immigrants to a synergistic information ground that can help in meeting broad psychological, social, and practical needs. This exploratory case study of QBPL’s programs revealed a range of candidate outcomes that one can expect (and therefore, transfer) from a library service well designed to reach and to serve immigrant communities.

The Queens Immigrant Study was part of our 2000-03 IMLS funded “How Libraries and Librarians Help” study series in which we developed a context-based, outcome evaluation approach for assessing how different stakeholders use community programs run by public libraries.


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