Libraries Help Military Families Answer the Challenges and Thrive
Military families face plenty of obstacles when it comes to family life, education, job searching, etc. The challenges of being in the military can add up especially when kids and family members are being relocated multiple times a year. This can drastically affect the quality of life and bring up additional challenges for them to handle. Libraries aren’t the one-stop solution for this but they can do a lot in helping families tackle the difficulties that come up.
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The Life of Military Families
Instability is a common concern that service members and their families have. There are plenty of experiences that military families experience that justify these concerns. For one, military families move often. In fact, the average amount of times these families may switch locations every 2 to 3 years which means a child may change schools almost a dozen times by the end of elementary school. For those with military family members that are deployed, this could mean being away from loved ones for over a year. While those who serve have their reasons for doing so, it can be hard on them and their families when their lives are so closely tied to their work.
According to the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey that compiled the responses of more than 11,000 active-duty, reserve, and national guard troops and families, the top five concerns that they had all surrounded the unpredictability that comes with serving or having family members who are serving. These concerns were “military spouse employment, time spent away from family, their children’s education, stability of the family, and lack of control over military careers.”
Military families are just like civilian families with parents who want to make a living for themselves and their kids and kids who want to make friends, learn, and grow. What is tough about balancing these expectations with a military life is that the demands of serving conflicts with many of the elements of life that these families are looking for. They have to find completely different resources that cater to their needs and help their families adapt.
Libraries’ Efforts Toward Solutions for Military Families
Public libraries are equipped with resources that can directly help alleviate some of the stresses that come with the challenges of military life. This includes helping service members and their families with education and employment. Libraries are accessible to military families whether they are living on or near a base or in an urban, suburban, or rural community. Librarians and library staff have recognized the importance of providing specific services tailored to the needs of military families.
Unique Challenges of Military Children
Children who are in military families face challenges that are different from the classmates mainly from the constant change they experience. Moving to new schools every few years can be difficult not only because of the need to get acquainted with a new area and make new friends but also because of the inconsistencies in curriculum that different places may have. For example, one school may teach fractions late while the new school teaches it early, causing the child to have gaps in their learning. Others problems they may face are differences in curriculum when it comes to those specific to each state like learning Virginia history versus Texas history.
These obstacles can lead children to struggle socially and academically and cause stress when it comes to trying to balance catching/keeping up with new material and trying to get involved in their new community. Also, those who have parents stationed overseas may be plagued with additional worries from concern for their parents’ safety to not being able to be around their loved ones as consistently as other kids.
Libraries can help tackle these problems in a number of ways. They create programming that specifically caters to these children and helps them feel understood. Resources at the libraries can also be used to help students with their coursework. Librarians are always at the ready to help with finding materials on learning a new subject or connecting them with print and online research materials.
Some libraries create book lists that highlight the experiences of military families and children. Jan Marry, who works in public libraries in Virginia that serves military families makes sure to create displays to celebrate, validate, and address the experiences of these children. She includes a variety of topics and genres like historical fiction, uplifting stories, and darker themes. She also facilitates storytimes where military spouses bring their toddlers to the public library and share in books and their own experiences. The San Francisco Public Library Veterans Resource Center and many others have joined in and created book and resource lists of their own that are geared towards active duty members, veterans, and their families. Spaces like this help connect children to books and one another.
Libraries also connect students struggling with schoolwork to valuable resources like tutors and databases. Many will carry subscriptions to databases created for kids in primary, middle, or high school like Kids InfoBits or Junior Edition K-12. They also invest their funding into book collections and online libraries that help children learn.
Aiding With Job Searches
Libraries located on the bases are also a huge benefit for families of those serving. These libraries work to provide a traditional library environment with common collections as well as valuable technology resources. These libraries usually have concentrated goals that center around helping military families transition to their new community. The resources that these libraries house can help provide economic security through help with career preparation like resume review and coaching or ever providing unlimited and free access to the internet.
A military installation library is one of the best places to work on professional development and learning. The Army MWR can help families locate their closest installation. All they need is a library account to access everything. These base libraries have computer labs with a variety of computer programs, investment tools, etc. Some of the most popular resources are:
- Educational and career advancement materials (continuing education, test prep, reading lists, online practice).
- Support for Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP)
- IMCOM Professional Development print and electronic resources.
These were put in place so that these families would always have a place to go if they needed some basic tips on taking the next steps in their careers and become integrated into their new community.
Creating Community and Belonging
The work that libraries and their staff members do to address the unique needs of the military community is impactful to families in ways beyond imagine. Sometimes, all it takes is a safe and welcoming environment to help military families adjust to their move and create a new home. The endless amounts of resources and support provided by libraries can offer them a certain element of consistency in their ever changing lives and military families know they can count on libraries to be a crutch for their needs wherever they move. For more stories and resources on libraries and military families, visit our selection of articles on these topics!