In 2010, the Bremen City Library (Stadtbibliothek Bremen) anchored a diversity strategy in its mission statement. The Library expanded its intercultural offerings to patrons, carried out an extensive series of training courses for intercultural openness for all employees and implemented a staff position for diversity management. For these endeavours, in 2015, the Library was awarded the Bremen Diversity Prize.
Even though the library excelled in serving its population, the community's cultural diversity was not represented in the library team. In 2015, 28% of the Bremen population held a migrant background, the Bremen public service rate was around 13% of employees, and the library's rate was only at 2.5%.
It can be challenging for people with a migrant background to enter skilled professions, such as librarianship, especially if they speak little German. Applicants must speak and read German at a B1-level before institutions will offer a job on contract, and applicants must have qualified vocational training to secure a position that is paid an appropriate, living wage. Labour and residence laws pose additional challenges for refugees in Germany, as many young people are not offered trainings without a determined residence status.
In 2014, the city of Bremen developed a project called “Future Training Opportunities” (Zukunftschance Ausbildung ), targeted to help those with refugee status gain entry-level qualification (EQ, Einstiegsqualifizierung) with accompanying language lessons and socio-educational support. In addition to acquiring language skills, the vocational qualification is essential for successful and sustainable integration into the labour market in Germany. The EQ prepares refugees and asylum seekers for an apprenticeship and a dual training programme in Bremen public service and in private companies. The library joined this city-wide project as an apprenticeship site in 2015.
“The programme starts with the EQ, a one-year pre-vocational training course, which equips refugees with the basic professional skills they will need,” explains Jochen Kriesten, Head of the AFZ Training Centre. The EQ is not a closed course specifically for refugees and is the regular first year of training available to all. If the trainee's EQ year is successful, they repeat this year to officially start the dual study programme which lasts three years.
For those who choose to apprentice in the Library, it means training to become qualified specialists in media and information services. During their dual-study programme, apprentices work three days per week in the library, and spend two days at the vocational school to learn needed theoretical knowledge and to study German language. After completing the programme, newly-qualified media and information specialists can begin working on contract at the library.
Since the beginning of the project, six people have selected the library for their apprenticeship – a woman from Syria and a woman from Turkey, and four men who came to Germany from Guinea, Syria, Afghanistan, China – all six trainees have completed their entry qualification. Three of them have already completed their dual training programme and are now working as members of the Bremen Library team.
Ahmad Ata, one of the project participants, shared his growth and appreciation for the program: “Most of us experienced the feeling of being like a stranger, as a newcomer, where you find yourself with lack of knowledge about how everything functions in this new place. However, the EQ gave me the opportunity to learn where and how I should start. It helped me to know more about the society, my surroundings, to learn about the rules and regulations, the culture, education and work system and most important, how can I achieve my goals and dreams in this new place. EQ is one of that platforms that let you improve yourself and provide you the opportunity to show yourself and your abilities.”