Public Libraries and Immigrants: Influences on the Degree of Welcomeness

46 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2014

See all articles by Linda Williams

Linda Williams

Arizona State University, School of Public Affairs

Date Written: June 1, 2014


This paper examines the local construction of law on the street regarding immigrants. Local agencies play a key role in immigration enforcement and in providing services to immigrants. As such, they are increasingly the ‘face of the state’ to immigrants, a face which varies across localities and regions and ranges from friendly to hostile. Some agencies have a full array of policies and procedures for providing services to immigrants, including policies requiring equal service without regard to immigration status, informational materials in foreign languages and training in providing neutral professional service, while others have few or none of these things.

Much of the research has focused on law enforcement actions towards immigrants, but many other public agencies frequently interact with these groups and shape official policies and immigrant perceptions of the state. This paper focuses on public libraries a service organization that receives scant public or academic attention. The purpose of this paper is two-fold; first, it develops a framework for measuring the degree of ‘welcomeness’ of public agencies. Second, it examines how widely local agencies are welcoming (or unwelcoming) to immigrants and what are the conditions that shape the degree of welcomeness. To address these questions, this paper uses results from nationwide surveys of local public library systems in counties with a minimum population of 30,000 and a foreign-born population of least 5%. The research is framed by three competing theoretical approaches: minority group threat, neo-institutionalism and economic regimes. Libraries face conflicting political pressures that are often hostile to immigrants and professional norms favoring equal service to all in the community. The degree of welcomeness depends on the balance between these opposing forces. This study improves understanding of how administrative policies and practices evolve in the context of political and institutional pressures. Preliminary results find a remarkable degree of deliberate welcomeness toward immigrants even in some politically conservative states.

Keywords: immigration, immigrant incorporation, bureaucratic incorporation, welcomeness

JEL Classification: R50, H70

Suggested Citation

Williams, Linda, Public Libraries and Immigrants: Influences on the Degree of Welcomeness (June 1, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Linda Williams (Contact Author)

Arizona State University, School of Public Affairs ( email )

411 N Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85014
United States
602-496-1158 (Phone)

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