The role of libraries in supporting refugee entrepreneurship


  • Eeva-Liisa Eskola Åbo Akademi University
  • Gunilla Widén Åbo Akademi University
  • Karen E. Fisher University of Washington


Aim: The aim of this paper is to explore whether libraries can support the development of refugees’ entrepreneurial knowledge and skills in order to enhance their lives in refugee camps and beyond.
Introduction: “Despite significant hardships, refugees are pushing the limits of what most people recognize as the general entrepreneur spirit. There is a resilience among refugee communities that enables them to thrive, not just to survive, and to be creative members of society.” (Parater 2016). In this endeavor, refugees naturally need different types of support, and access to key information for their decision-making as entrepreneurs. For example, there are a number of host country government restrictions on sectors in which refugees are allowed to work, and restrictions on how refugees can receive money. Public libraries around the world are committed to follow values which promote equal and free access to information and knowledge, dissemination of information and knowledge, community engagement and empowerment, diversity and inclusion, and protection of cultural heritage and memory (IFLA 2018; Vårheim 2018). The values guide the activities and services as libraries function as learning, cultural and information centres for diverse communities (IFLA, 2012), providing access to information and knowledge resources and services in library buildings, and as outreach services (e.g. mobile libraries) (IFLA, 2010). In addition, libraries promote information literacy (IL) skills and competences among citizens, ‘encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning’ (ACRL, 2015), taking social and cultural differences into account (UNESCO, 2021). These skills, promoted by libraries, are crucial in a world where the excess of information, dis- and misinformation impede access to reliable information, hampering social inclusion and active citizenship, such as entrepreneurship.
Method and material: The paper explores the existing literature in order to identify the preconditions and obstacles of libraries to successfully enhance refugees’ entrepreneurial skills. The relevant literature includes ideological foundations and services of public libraries and the concept of information literacy in relation to capacity building of various groups of people. Moreover, literature and other documentation on circumstances and library services in refugee camps, specifically in the Zaatari camp in Jordan are explored and described as examples.
Expected results: The ideological foundations of libraries, as well as the services developed according to these foundations provide a solid base for supporting the development of camp residents’ entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. Challenges and obstacles related to the circumstances in refugee camp settings are identified.


ACRL (2015) ACRL. (2015). Framework for information literacy for higher education. ACRL.
IFLA/UNESCO (1994). IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994.
IFLA/UNESCO, (2008). IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto: The Multicultural Library – a gateway to a cultural diverse society in dialogue.
IFLA (2010). IFLA Public Library Service Guidelines (2nd, completely revised edition). Editors: Christie Koontz and Barbara Gubbin.
IFLA (2018). Global Vision Report Summary: Top 10 Highlights and Opportunities.
Parater, L. (2016). 10 refugees who will change your perception of entrepreneurship. UNHCR Innovation Service.
UNESCO (2021). Media and information literacy.
Vårheim, A. (2014). Trust in libraries and trust in most people. The Library Quarterly, 84(3), 258-277.





2.6 Refugee Entrepreneurship