By: Bob Sisson, Librarian, Northeast Regional Library
Our library, the Northeast Regional Library, hosted an Immigrant Resources Fair on June 8, 2018. We are located in northeast Philadelphia and are part of the Free Library of Philadelphia. As a librarian at this location, I work in the Social Sciences and Technology department. In the past, I have done job fairs, community fairs, business fairs, and other large events. I thought the immigrant community could benefit from the same type of event. My idea was to locate, talk to, and attract prospective exhibitors. They were not charged a fee to attend and we had non-profits and city/government agencies only.
On a daily basis, we see English-speaking citizens who have problems with housing, food, employment, health, and additional issues. Immigrants have the same issues but may be less likely to know where to go for help and may be reluctant to seek assistance. My task, in addition to securing exhibitors, was to attract immigrants who would want to attend and feel welcome at the library and hopefully return in the future to use our services.
I allowed several months for the effort: locating organizations, decision makers, getting verbal and written commitments. The organizations were glad to come and they saw this as helping to accomplish their mission of meeting the needs of immigrants. This was a unique event for northeast Philadelphia. We were able to have flyers made in Russian, Arabic, Spanish, and Chinese (Mandarin) which I sent out to agencies and posted at different locations. We had 29 organizations and about 150 participants attend. Exhibitors shared their services and resources they offer including: assistance with citizenship, English classes, small businesses, food, employment, housing, legal help, and more. Several organizations provided citizenship assistance during the event.
Although it was considered a successful event, there were challenges. If I found a prospective attendee, it required time and effort to explain the event. Contrast that to a job fair, where you would say “we are having a job fair, would you like a flyer?” Instead, we were talking with people who have limited English skills, may be wary of Americans trying to “sell” them something, and having to explain the concept of a fair. An additional problem was the effort of trying to post flyers in stores. Store owners were not happy to see me come in: they assumed I was a sales rep and are visited by sales reps every day and are unhappy with that. Another challenge was getting exhibitors to post the event information on their web pages or share flyers. Surprisingly, a few would not.
On the plus side was the publicity effort by our Central library location, local radio, and a few politicians and their use of social media. It was a challenging event but I’m glad to have made the effort and appreciate the organizations that took part.