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.