Connecting adult immigrants to learning in the libraries

Our History

The RIFLI collaborative began as a dialogue between library staff based on shared goals and values. The program was implemented as a direct response to the needs of the growing immigrant community in Rhode Island. In the 1980’s, the Providence Public Library began receiving many requests from recent immigrants to America for ESL services. The library responded by implementing a family literacy program based on the Ruth Handel and Marianne Goldsmith’s Family Literacy Model, (Approaches to Intergenerational Literacy, New Readers Press, 1990). The practice is modeled after “evidence-based” family literacy models like Even Start, although tailored to a library setting and to the community need to keep this program in the evenings or for shorter durations. 76% of our participants are working parents and need the flexibility of an evening program, morning program or Saturday program.

Initially, the Providence Public Library provided both ABE and ESL classes, but the need for ESL family literacy services was so great that the decision was made to focus on the needs of recent immigrants with lower level literacy needs. In 1995, Congress rescinded the LSCA federal funding it had made available for library literacy programs and seven libraries in the state were left with no funding for thriving adult literacy programming for the next year. In response to this crisis, librarians and local literacy advocates came together to collaborate on securing new funding. In 1998, the collaboration was successful in receiving funds through the RI Foundation, allowing two of the libraries to run a pilot program modeled after the PPL’s Family Literacy Program (FLP). Today, RIFLI has 16 classes at 9 libraries and community centers in five library systems.