Military Families and Public Libraries
Libraries are uniquely positioned to support military families in a variety of ways. From ensuring that all ages are able to easily access resources like books and job searching materials to welcoming new families into town, libraries were built as a space for learning and connecting. It is well-known that military families have to move around often. In fact, many families move every two to three years — and some move more frequently. The United States facilitates around 450,000 Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves for military families each year. This means family units with spouses and kids are being uprooted from their comfort zone and need to adapt to new environments constantly. The local public library near base is one destination in any new town that is open and consistent to offer support for new faces.
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Libraries Near Military Bases
Throckmorton Library located near Fort Bragg military base and named after a military veteran who served as a general when he was on active duty. This library was erected in 1997 and serves the community as well as military families. This library has specific missions it focuses on that relate to helping military families in their transition to being in a new community. This includes providing professional and technical training as well as personal skill development. They work to ensure that these families have a quality home life especially when deployed or on remote assignments. The public library also helps with transitioning into new careers and, of course, helps military families with relocation and accommodates to the needs of the military community.
Throckmorton isn’t the only library located near a military base. The Robert F. Sink Memorial Library caters to active duty military and their families also. On top of having large collections of books available to be borrowed, they make sure to have a robust supply of books that are topics of interest to military families as well as military history. There are plenty of free online services this library offers such as language learning programs, tutoring services, and digital magazines, audio books, and movies.
What’s more, this library ensures that kids are not being overlooked. Kids from military families face plenty of struggles with moves and need to adapt to attending new schools, making new friends, and becoming familiar with new community resources. The Robert F. Sink Memorial Library makes sure to have plenty of services available specifically for kids from tutoring services to databases like Kids InfoBits which is made specifically for kids in primary school or Junior Edition K-12 which is designed for middle school students. This library, and many others located near military bases, also invest in a collection of books called TumbleBooks Library which are online, animated talking books that help teach kids about the joy of reading. They also invest in a similar collection targeted towards older students that contain chapter books and YA and teen novels.
Libraries and organizations also work to put together toolkits and programs for veterans and those in the military that help support children who may need materials that resonate with their experiences. The Families and Children Working Group of Illinois Joining Forces parted with the Illinois Library Association to help bring programs and resources to military families all throughout the state of Illinois. They started with a reading list of compiled materials that relate to military families. Included on the list are books like While You Were Away: 101 Tips for Military Families with Teens and Daddy’s on a Chip: Deployment through a Child’s Eyes. Many books on this list are specific for connecting with kids and teens who may be experiencing a variety of emotions related to a parents’ role in the military from dealing with deployment to exploring branches of the military and understanding honor and sacrifice.
The list is a great resource created for military families because each book was chosen by someone that has personal experience with military-connected families. The group recommends that parents mark these books with a purple sticker since the color purple represents the armed forces. The group also recommends that libraries designate a Military Community Coordinator for purchasing and coordinating books. This way there is a watchful eye on a much-needed community resource.
Supporting Veterans and Military Families
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) created the Community Salute which is an initiative geared towards studying the response of libraries and museums to the needs of veterans and their families. There are a couple of roles that this initiative has noted where libraries are well-positioned for supporting these populations of patrons. This includes catalyzing connections, curating narratives, and creating programs.
There are plenty of libraries already partaking in events and services within these roles. For example, The Library of Congress preserves and digitizes important military family war stories, the Nashville Public Library has space for service providers to connect veterans with benefits, and the Cecil County Public Library offers technical training and small business consulting to veterans in the area. These institutions not only found ways to connect with military families in the area, they did so by understanding the local population and designing programs and services around the specific needs of these populations.
This guide emphasizes creating authentic spaces with key cultural competencies in mind such as creating welcoming environments by minimizing loud noises, bright lights, or large crowds. It touches on team-based and collaborative approaches when working with a community that is trained to be service-driven. It also asks libraries and museums to become familiar with military culture including branches, language, and experiences. By keeping these ideas in mind when catering to military families, libraries have been able to create inclusive and welcoming spaces.
Libraries as Creators — and Connectors — of Assets for Families
It can be difficult to adjust to new places and faces. Libraries are perfect locations for helping military families feel at home in a new city. There are several unique assets that libraries offer that can be leveraged by new families.
Libraries are expert research and resource destinations and librarians are skilled in finding information. This means they are capable of connecting military families to their new community immediately whether it means looking for local events to attend or groups to join. Library spaces are also neutral, safe, and private. The environment is respectful towards people of any background and the amount of space they have is capable of facilitating strong, community support networks. Libraries are well-known for hosting nonprofits, holding health fairs, and putting on informational events of all topics. These places of connection are important for sharing information and building relationships. All things that new families need in an unfamiliar place.
Libraries are social networks that act as catalysts in sparking positive changes in their communities. For years they have worked to develop programming and initiatives that help people acclimate and be a part of their communities. They are imperative in helping military families gain a comprehensive look into the areas they move into and provide endless tools and resources that really come in handy for these families. With the hundreds of thousands of families being relocated each year, libraries are stepping in as important community leaders to make sure these military families are being taken care of.