As the University of Limerick has been designated a University of Sanctuary in recognition of its initiatives welcoming asylum seekers and refugees, I reflected on the role played by libraries in offering sanctuary to learners.
Fundamentally, libraries offer a safe and inviting space in which people can read quietly or work collaboratively. Librarians encounter and solve complex queries, establish connections between learners and the services that can best benefit them. These professional attributes place librarians at the centre of many inter-agency initiatives to welcome and assist people from new communities to Ireland.
The Library Association of Ireland’s Western Section held a seminar on ‘Diversity in Libraries’ in Co. Clare this week. Welcoming migrant populations is nothing new in Ireland’s western counties. The Shannon resettlement programme in the 1970s and the housing of Syrian families in Co. Roscommon demonstrates the welcome that the West extends to migrants.
Galway County Council’s library service is one initiative described at the LAI Seminar .
Among other professional attributes, a librarian’s project management and communications skills made Galway’s library staff crucial partners in the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. From conducti
ng research to support the committee running the project to establishing links in the community, providing internet access and English-language learning material, the library played a central role in the successful rollout of the programme. On a continuing basis, the library provides cultural information and offers space for people to meet. Irish people interacting personally with the Syrians has given everyone that most critical of perspectives; understanding.
Today belongs to the 17 refugees from direct provision in Limerick who will get scholarships to study at the University of Limerick. Our campus library will welcome them and be a sanctuary and a lifeline when deadlines approach. I look forward to learning from the experiences of these students, to deepening my understanding of their culture and their backgrounds, so that we can go from strength to strength in supporting diverse learner needs.