June 22, 2017

Sophie Maier | Movers & Shakers 2017 – Change Agents

Sophie Maier

CURRENT POSITION

Immigrant Services Librarian, Iroquois Branch
Louisville Free Public Library, KY

DEGREE

MLS, University of Kentucky, 2010

Photo by Hunter Wilson, Kertis Creative

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Global to Local

Raised by activist parents, Sophie Maier has had a career defined by advocacy. After the events of 9/11 rocked the global community, Maier, who had spent time abroad and had more travel plans ahead, decided to stay in the United States and explore her hometown: Louisville, KY. “I happened to see a position available at the library. From there I learned much of the world had settled into the community…. The world had come to me,” she says. As an immigrant services librarian for the past ten years, Maier “is the face and heart” of the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL), says Director Jim Blanton. She “brings our mission to Louisville’s newest and most vulnerable residents.”

Maier understood from early on that she needed to get out of the library. As Blanton notes, you’re as likely to find her at “an Iraqi grocery store, a slaughterhouse, a church basement,” as at her home library, the Iroquois branch. “Her ubiquitous presence around town has helped Sophie develop strong, lasting relationships with our international populations, which is key to engaging them in library and community programs,” he says. As a result, Maier has been able to involve members of immigrant and refugee populations as program hosts, participants, and advisors, which “empowers them, in their own voices, [to] educate our city about their backgrounds and culture,” says Blanton. Her efforts include encouraging immigrant families to help children retain their native language while learning English and bringing together Louisville natives, immigrants, and refugees from all types of socioeconomic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, says Blanton. “Sophie’s…inclusive approach…situates LFPL as a hub for international activity in Louisville.”

One of Maier’s cornerstone programs is the long-running weekly English Conversation Club (ECC). “Newcomers and English-language learners meet with local volunteers at the library to receive help with language, homework, employment, and cultural adjustment,” says Blanton. Maier personalizes the ECC experience by pairing people who have “some element of shared experience,” he notes. The program’s success has grown the ECC into five branches. “What is most touching to me personally is having English-language learners who came to ECC return as fluent English speakers wanting to help the most recent arrivals,” says Maier. Currently a “cadre of teenagers” who moved through the ECC are mentoring other youth, as well as planning and executing programs. Cultural showcases, film and discussion series, and language salons “preserve the heritage of our diverse city,” says Maier. “It is more important than ever to make public libraries, with our mandate for lifelong learning and community discourse, as welcoming and inclusive to all as possible.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Ali Baker says:

    Sophie Maier is a woman who has contributed to raising the cultural standard, to refugees and immigrants. It is even interesting to note that most of the immigrants and refugees call the Iroquois branch library (Sophie’s library) because of the great services they provide to them in order to integrate them into the new society in Louisviile, KY.

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