A piece of something larger

I took my girls to the Fraser Valley Regional Library the other day. We were in desperate need of new stories to read at their bedtime. It was close to dinnertime, so I made the assumption that we would have the library to ourselves. Instead, I discovered a mother and her daughter whom we’ve not seen for a while – a chance to catch up on each other’s lives. After a brief visit, another mother, who we didn’t know, walked in with her two sons.  We conversed with them, as it goes with parents of small children. Needing to get home for dinner, my girls borrowed their books and we left, content with the time we spent there.

Once the stories were read and the children were in bed, I had a moment to reflect on this experience. I thought of the many ways that a building that houses books, workshops, seminars, events and other great resources for the general public, acts as a community hub. Here is a place where we can walk in and enjoy as much, or as little interaction with others as we wish. We can get lost in our thoughts, or we can be found sharing common ideas, goals, and space. Minds can be expanded and challenged, skills can be learned, and new friendships can be made.

This reflection is likely not a new revelation to you, but it did make me pause. It made me realize how much more I feel connected to my community when I enter the doors of my library. I belong. I fit in. I am a part of this living, breathing community and I am a better person for it. I hope my girls, too, will experience the contentment and belonging I feel here.


(The girls enjoying the puzzles in the childrens’ area)

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Library Connections

Moving from Morocco is no small step. Volunteering as a Library Champion after having been in Canada for only 9 months is also quite bold. Jamila Imrani has done both. She’s learning more about libraries and, in turn, is helping other newcomers adjust to life in BC. We caught up with Jamila recently; here’s what she had to say about this project:

What strikes you most about the differences between the libraries here and the libraries where you’re from?

There is a big difference between libraries here and the ones in my country. To begin with, there is no connection between libraries in my country. In addition to this, The books or what ever you borrow must be returned to the library you borrow from. And a library card is used only for the library mentioned on it.

 Why did you become a Library Champion?

Because I found library very interesting for me, I registered for this project. By learning more, I will help newcomers to get more information for their new life in Canada. Me too I’m a newcomer, and I know very well how its feels to be in a new country. It’s like a fish out of water.

Tell me about the Library Champion Project. What is your role in this?

This project is the best way for newcomers to give them all information they need. As a newcomer, I can learn more new things from this project and then teach it to others. Due to the introduction of this project by one of my classmate, I first felt curious as well as doubtful about all what she said. Later on, I discovered all she told me about libraries is true. After that, I decided to spend lots of time in the library because I found it useful and very interesting. Two months later, I registered for this project and was selected. Now that I’m a Library Champion, my role is to let newcomers know all I’ve known about libraries in BC. Sharing information and introducing libraries to people will facilitate there new life in Canada.

What’s your favourite library here?

To be honest, I like all libraries. But the most ones I spend more time in are New Westminster Library and Vancouver Public Library.

What is the library service that you use the most?

The ESL Learning Centre.

 What is the library service that surprised you most?

All libraries in BC are connected to each other? It’s unbelievable but true.

Register in one library is enough. And by using one library card we can borrow whatever we want from libraries in BC.

What are you most excited about with this project?

It’s amazing to see libraries in BC work together and with newcomers to develop, using Social Media to offer more than access to all kind of services that are available in Libraries in BC. All for free. 

What recommendations do you have for other newcomers to BC?

Don’t panic. Be more confident and go out to attend newcomer’s program so that you can get all information you need. Go to libraries. You are welcome in BC Libraries.

*It sounds to me like Jamila is taking her own advice to heart. She is most welcome in the BC Libraries and she is doing the best at utilizing all services and locations available. 

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Ben Hart – NewToBC Pioneer

Ben Hart has been a key player in the Urban Libraries Settlement Project (ULSP). As project coordinator, he worked tirelessly towards the creation of a collaborative library model that better promotes services and resources to help immigrant integration into BC and to Canada. We took a moment to interview Ben about this project and how it came to fruition, as well as what his thoughts are regarding public libraries in BC.

How did you become involved in the NewToBC Project?

I recently completed a Master of Library & Information Studies degree at UBC. While I pursued this degree, I took courses and directed my studies to prepare me for work in a public library setting. My position with NewToBC has offered me an incredible opportunity to collaborate with staff at not one but ten public libraries in the Metro Vancouver area to develop, deliver, and promote some of the important services that public libraries offer to their communities—services for newcomer immigrants.

What direction would you like to see libraries taking in the future to address newcomers to BC? To Canada?

One of the guiding principles of public libraries in BC and in Canada is that everyone is welcome. Thus, libraries find themselves in a unique position to inspire cultural sensitivity and to promote social inclusion. I think that libraries can and should do the important work of bringing people together by developing collections and delivering programming that both celebrate and reflect the diversity of the communities that the libraries serve. By inviting and encouraging everyone to take advantage of these collections and to take part in these programs, libraries foster welcoming and diverse communities.

What do you feel is currently the most under-utilized resource in libraries?

Public libraries employ staff members who have extensive knowledge, subject and technical expertise, and exemplary customer service skills. These staff members can and do assist visitors to the libraries with their information needs. In my mind, library staff are the most under-utilized and the valuable and essential resources that public libraries have.

What has been the largest fundamental shift of libraries in the past 5 years?

More and more, libraries exist as digital and physical spaces. Library catalogues are searchable online. Myriad library resources are now available online and/or in electronic formats. Many libraries have active presences on social media. Library websites and social media pages have become accessible digital spaces where people can commune and interact with library services and with one another.

 What is the biggest challenges that libraries face?

Libraries must actively and persistently raise awareness about and promote the spectrum of services that they provide. Once people find out that libraries offer more than access to information that is readily and easily available on the internet, they are able to see the real value and the importance of public libraries.

What are you most excited about with this project?

NewToBC is all about collaboration. It’s been amazing to watch ten public libraries work together, work with settlement service provider organizations, and work with newcomers to develop, improve upon, and promote library-based settlement services in Metro Vancouver.

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An interview with Manly (Xiaohong) Song

Manly arrived from China 4 years ago. She was an independent business owner. She is now adapting to life in Canada: different culture, different food, and a vastly different educational system. Read about Manly’s decision to become a Library Champion.

Why did you become a Library Champion?
My two daughters got great benefit from the library. My older daughter (15) liked to stay at the library because she can get more information what she needs. She also has a good habit of reading. My younger daughter (3) enjoys the childrens’ programs and has become more interactive. Because my daughters love the libraries, I want to have more newcomers to know what they can experience.

What was the best moment you had while you were a Library Champion?
I didn’t have one best moment. The following were highlights for me:

  • I organized a library tour with Chinese PAC of Lord Byng secondary school.
  • I contacted the LAHOO website, which is one of the biggest Chinese websites in Vancouver, and got their support. I then posted information on the Library Champion Project so that Chinese newcomers could find this information.

What do you hope to see more of in BC Public Libraries in the future?
I would like to see more free ESL program for newcomers as well as a special area to put the newcomer-specific information.

What, do you feel is the most important service that a library offers for newcomers to BC?
A clear understanding of the education system, rules and policies in Canada.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you moved to BC?
Language. English is not my mother language.

What recommendations do you have for other newcomers to BC?
Don’t only stay at home. Push yourself to go out to attend newcomers program. You can become more confident, meet new friends and get more information.

If you were to move again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Do more homework regarding the rules and policies of Canada’s education system.


*If you’re interested in becoming a Library Champion, the North Vancouver District Public Library is currently looking for volunteers. The next information session is February 13.

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Meet Yi Chen (Jennifer)

Taking part in library champion project is a great experience for me. I meet more people, make new friends, and learn more about libraries. I think I benefit most from my experience of doing the work as a library champion.

The first thing I learned is that talking with strangers is not so difficult, yet making up my mind to say hello to them is hard. This month, I tried to reach out to strangers to talk about libraries, which turned out to be not so difficult as I had thought. When I told people that I was doing volunteering work for libraries, they were usually very friendly instead of being on guard; however, before I actually talked with strangers, I had to struggle inside and get up the courage to approach them, which is the most difficult part of  the whole process. Thus, I come to the conclusion that when we try to reach a goal, the biggest barrier to overcome is probably we ourselves.

I also find out that social media is an excellent way to share information.  http://vancouver.iask.ca/ is a website very popular among Chinese immigrants in Canada, and those who are still in China but planning to move to Canada as well. I myself learned a lot from other people’s posts about their own experiences in that website, so I wrote an article listing the ways how new immigrants can benefit from libraries and posted it on the forum of that website. To my surprise, within four days, three people said thank you to me and one person said my post was very useful. It feels so good to get positive responses from strangers.

My library champion experience helps me understand that the two keys to doing a good job is overcoming our own fears and choosing a good method to do it.

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Linda Louis – Library Champion

One of the best ways to learn something new is to teach it to others. Linda Louis moved to BC just 9 months ago, from Iraq, and is already teaching other newcomers about what services are available through BC Public Libraries.  She is volunteering as a Library Champion. Facilitators and librarians train Library Champions in the wide ranges of services available so that they, in turn, can reach out to members of their community and share this information.

Linda learned about this volunteer opportunity through DIVERSEcity - a large immigrant serving agency that serves immigrants in Surrey. She is very social and enthusiastic and her counsellor knew she would be a great fit for this role of reaching out to others. She knows how it feels to be a newcomer and wants to help others transition to their new life in Canada. She feels that newcomers should visit libraries shortly after arrival to learn more about immediate necessities such as looking for rentals, schools, hospitals, banks, transportation, driver licensing and learning how to find a job. Once past this phase, libraries can become a place of leisure.

Linda has shared information about libraries to newcomers at their ESLA classes, with church groups and has advised other people that she meets along the way – especially those who speak Arabic. She takes great pleasure in assisting others in opening a library account and knowing that they are in good hands with libraries acting as a reference point to so much information.

Through volunteering she has improved her own English speaking skills. Sharing information with others has helped her become more comfortable with English, as has the various resources available through the libraries. Her favourite resources are the ESL books – she was excited to find that there are various levels of materials to help her improve at a graduated pace.  She also loves the classification system used in the BC Public Library system, and how easy it is to find information through the use of the Internet.

We’re rooting for Linda. She is a Mechanical Engineer. She is getting her Canadian Experience. She knows what resources can assist her and she has shared this with others. Her energy and enthusiasm will pay off.

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Your Librarian: Lynn Brockington

Lynn Brockington looks after ESL programs and collections at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. I interviewed her recently to share her views on the NewToBC project as well as her experiences in working with newcomers.

What does your typical workday look like?

I split my time between Information services and technical services. The work with newcomers is part of what I do in Information Services. Specifically, I connect the volunteers teaching the ESL programs to the people taking the classes. The volunteer teachers are very committed and excited to be a part of these programs, and the participants are extremely appreciative to be given the opportunity to improve their English. It’s exciting and I enjoy seeing social groups develop and individuals progress. These programs are very popular. For example, the book club, which only has twelve spots, has 46 people on the list. So everyone has a fair chance, we select the names with a lottery system. Lastly, I purchase materials for ESL learning, as well as non-English books to allow patrons to read in their own language. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing newcomers to BC?

I have worked closely with the Library Champions and the challenges they encountered most frequently as immigrants was learning English, and finding employment. Additionally, many of them mentioned the difficulties to finding a community to belong to.

What do you feel is the largest untapped resource available to newcomers to BC?

Libraries. What I learned with the Library Champions was that they all had library cards, but there were many resources and services in the Library they didn’t know about. For example, they didn’t know about online resources such as Press Display, a database of newspapers  from all over the world, and our language learning software, Mango Languages.

What are your favourite ‘go to’ resources?

I use Immigrantguide.ca. It is a guide for newcomers to services and resources for the North Shore and is maintained by the North Vancouver City Library.

What is the library resource that is highest in demand for newcomers to BC?

The ESL Collections and multilingual newspapers. Movies are also very popular.

How do you feel the NewToBC project will help you in your continued work with newcomers to BC?

I learned so much about what it’s like to be a newcomer. I also gained an overview of what other libraries in the Lower Mainland are doing as well as the settlement agencies. This project will allow us to grow that bigger picture and work more collaboratively and collectively for newcomers.

What is your favourite aspect of the ?

The Library in West Van is very welcoming and accessible. You walk in on the ground level and there are friendly staff immediately there to help you. The building is old, but it’s well cared for and attractive and comfortable. Everyday I work here someone tells me how much they love this Library, and how great the staff and collections are.

West Vancouver Memorial Library

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