Veterans Connect @ the LibraryThe State of California has created a very helpful website for librarians as part of their Veterans Connect @ the Library initiative, which has links to resources, programming ideas, training for staff and volunteers, and statistics about veterans services. They have compiled a "digital duffel bag" of programming ideas, arranged by degree of difficulty for library staff. This ranges from writing letters to veterans and servicemen and making paracord bracelets, to having a full-on spa day for female veterans.
They also have links to many other associations that may inspire or possibly host a program, including War Comes Home, a California-specific initiative to help veterans reconnect with their communities after military service, and WarInk, an organization that tells veterans' stories through their tattoos.
Following the Examples of OthersThe American Library association published an article in 2016 about how "Libraries Help and Honor our Veterans" across the country, which includes some wonderful programming ideas that have been hosted at libraries across the country. The Portland [Maine] Public Library has hosted monthly legal advice clinics for veterans, while the library at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa has two classes per semester about making the transition from being in the military to returning to education.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services has a guide for librarians, archivists, and museum employees about providing services to veterans, as well, which can be found on their website.
What Else Can We Do?In addition to any of the above programs, libraries can always be sure to have information on hand, or be able to easily find it. We can provide:
- Help with forms - The Veteran's Administration provides help with housing, insurance, and many other things, and they all need complicated forms to be filled out.
- Information about support groups - Many veterans suffer from PTSD and other mental health problems, alcoholism, and depression. The suicide rate among veterans is tragic; having a support system may make all the difference in the world.
- Information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (www.va.gov) - this government organization offers a crisis line, health services, benefits for veterans, employment services, education and training, and pensions for many veterans
- Information about memorial services and how to have a loved one interred at a military cemetery, if that is their wish
We can also help by collecting American flags for disposal. Because they are symbols of the country, one is not supposed to just throw away an old flag. Instead, organizations such as the American Legion, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars will properly retire and dispose of flags (which is usually by burning, burying, shredding, or recycling). Libraries can have collection bins for people to donate flags which are no longer able to be used, which can then be picked up by or sent to one of the above organizations for proper disposal.
In some libraries, fines for military families are automatically waived when the materials are returned.
Many veterans have written books. Even if they are self-published, hosting local veterans to do an author talk can help them share their stories.
Many towns have Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, or some kind of Veterans Services office. You can do some outreach and see if they are interested in hosting a library program, or having a staff member come to the library to present a program on veterans' services.
If you have any other ideas for services for current and former military members, please let us know here in the comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page. We'd love to hear from you!