From Biomedical Engineer to Library Champion. Meet Sanam.

I received my Bachelor of Science in Biomedical engineering in 2014 and, just two days after graduation, I moved to Vancouver from Iran. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWhile I was a university student, I worked at a medical equipment company while studying. I also volunteered at one of the most respected hospitals in Tehran. You might assume I continued my education in the Biomedical field. But I did NOT! I decided to start something very different rather than my background, but something that I really love. If you have ever read The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, you will know what I mean: I decided to become a librarian and I am now enrolled in the Library and Information Technology program. I am working part-time and volunteering for the Canadian Red Cross and my local library.

I want to be a librarian one day in order to fulfill my dream of making libraries a place to gather people of various backgrounds and cultures, and to assist them in accessing and using the information they need. Nothing in this world makes me happier than helping other people.

Local libraries are one of my favourite places to spend time. In one of my visits to North Vancouver City Library I came across a Library Champions Project banner near the front desk, and I signed up for the information session right away.

In my country, libraries are usually serious places for studying. People are not allowed to talk together in study areas and I have not seen anything there but books. Libraries here are very different from what we have in our country. For example, the North Vancouver City Library has a Seed Club – you can get your favourite seeds, free of charge, and grow your own food. This was absolutely surprising to me. The only thing that is pretty much the same between libraries in Iran and libraries here are the reading clubs where folks get together to talk about a specific book or a topic.

I enjoyed every moment of the Library Champions Project. I made new friends and connections, but the best part of this for me was meeting Helene Rasmussen, the facilitator of the project. She is very caring and inspiring, and I will not forget her.

In March 2016, I became aware of the Library Small Grants program through Cara Pryor, Head of Community, Program and Service Development at North Vancouver City Library. She suggested that I apply for this grant with the purpose of building cross-cultural connections in the community through the library. My project was to create a craft event at the library to bring newcomers and long-term residents together. The selection committee chose my proposal. They liked it so much that they asked me to host my event twice to give more people the opportunity to participate. This resulted in double the amount of grant funds requested.

I have visited many libraries in the Lower Mainland, and I have to say the West Vancouver Memorial Library is my favorite. I love this library because it is very close to where I live, it has a beautiful patio that you can hang out with your friends, and it has Monday Movie Nights where Friends of Library serve you with fancy water and popcorn! Isn’t it great? There is also an ESL class at this library called Let’s Talk! and I am a HUGE fan of this class. The West Vancouver Memorial Library staffs are super friendly.

I do miss Iran. I miss my family and my friends and I miss the sunny warm days, but I have found many things to love about my new home. My favourite places in the Greater Vancouver area

are the Vancouver Art Gallery, Horseshoe Bay, Gastown, Deep Cove, English Bay, and the Capilano Suspension Bridge for Canyon Lights. I love cats, playing the piano and reading books. I love sushi rolls and I think Vancouver is the place to be for this.




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Grace LiFrom Hong Kong to Vancouver, Grace became a Library Champion. She heard about this volunteer opportunity through a friend who had participated in this project. After completing her Library Champion volunteer opportunity, she moved on to become a member of the Library Champion Advisory Committee where she assists in planning the year end Library Champion celebration and provides feedback to the project to help move it forward and reach more newcomers moving to BC.

What do you love most about being on the LCP Advisory?
It’s a great opportunity to meet Library Champions from different districts and learn from each other in event planning and project organization. I love brainstorming on what we could do more for the Library Champions Project, to meet the expectation of participants and spread the word to potential participants.

What do you like most about Libraries in BC?
Libraries in BC have a very good system: we can borrow a book from one library and return it to another, there are many magazines in Chinese language so I never miss any current news from my hometown, and when I need an answer for my question, librarians are there to assist.

How did you discover the Library Champions Project?
My friend participated in the Library Champion Project and told me about his experience and encouraged me to join.

What do you enjoy most about this project?
I loved the tour of the library – I learned about the design of the library and the categorization of books, as well as the many resources and facilities available at the library.

What surprised you the most about your new country?
Many people find jobs through connections, but not from the advertisement – networking is extremely important.

Why did you choose the Lower Mainland?
I chose it because of the mild weather, its beautiful nature, and friendly people. What more can you ask for?

What do you feel newcomers should know about their libraries?
BC libraries not only have books, newspapers, and videos, they also have job search information, children’s story time, book club, talks and much more. If newcomers visit libraries often, they can find out the latest events and activities.

What service offered at your local library surprised you the most?
I was happy to see that the libraries have newspapers from so many countries. Readers can enjoy reading newspapers from their own hometown.

Tell me about the libraries where you are from? How are they different / the same?
Librarians are very helpful in both cities, but I was surprised that the central library in Hong Kong is not as big as the central library in downtown Vancouver. The libraries in the lower mainland have a lot of new books, events and activities.

What has been your biggest challenge about living here?
My biggest challenge is learning driving. I have a bad sense of direction.

What has been your biggest win since moving here?
I completed my yoga teacher certificate in Vancouver.  I enjoy my full time job in providing services to newcomers and part time job as a yoga teacher.

What is your favourite food dish?
I love a good lobster and steak.

What do you miss the most about your previous home?
I miss getting together with friends and relatives more than anything.

What is your favourite activity here in the lower mainland?
I enjoy both indoor and outdoor activities. I love yoga, reading, hiking, and running marathons.

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A Thank You and a Welcome

HR-20160602-3695panoEleven library systems in thirteen communities across the Metro Vancouver area support NewToBC by raising awareness about project services by hosting cycles of the Library Champions project, and by participating as members of the NewToBC Steering Committee. Members of the Steering Committee bring their libraries’ perspectives as well as a wealth of experience, insight, creativity and passion to the planning of NewToBC activities and services. Over the years, the Steering Committee has guided the transformation of NewToBC from an idea into a pilot project and, now, into an expansive and successful library settlement initiative.

The NewToBC Steering Committee is made up of chief librarians, directors, coordinators and other administrators from each of the eleven public library systems. It is currently undergoing a period of renewal. A number of long term members of the committee are moving on due to retirement, to a change in their role or position, or to change in their employment. NewToBC is enormously grateful for the contributions of all of the members of the Steering Committee. We would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation of the outgoing members. Without your input, support and insight, this project would not have attained its current success.

The following outgoing members have served as committed, engaged and generous advocates for, supporters of, and contributors to NewToBC:

  • Edel Toner-Rogala (Chief Librarian, Burnaby Public Library);
  • Silvana Harwood (Deputy Director, Coquitlam Public Library);
  • Gillian McLeod (Library Manager of Delta Libraries, Fraser Valley Regional Library);
  • Jane Watkins (Chief Librarian, North Vancouver City Library);
  • Barbara Kelly (Manager of Community Engagement, North Vancouver District Public Library);
  • Surinder Bhogal (Chief Librarian, Surrey Libraries); and
  • Shelagh Flaherty (Director of Library Experience, Vancouver Public Library).

As NewToBC continues to grow and to evolve, we will continue to call upon the members of the Steering Committee to provide input into and to serve as champions of the project. NewToBC would like to welcome the following new members to the Steering Committee.

  • Roberta Summersgill (Manager of Tommy Douglas Branch, Burnaby Public Library);
  • Anthea Goffe (Manager of Community Services, Coquitlam Public Library);
  • Heather Scoular (Director of Customer Service, Fraser Valley Regional Library)
  • Cara Pryor (Head of Community, Program and Service Development, North Vancouver City Librayr);
  • Alison Campbell (Manager of Community Connections, North Vancouver District Public Library);
  • Lynne Russell (Director of Library Services, Port Moody Public Library); and
  • Dawn Ibey (Acting Director of Library Experience, Vancouver Public Library).

We are excited to build on the foundation of the outgoing Steering Committee members adding new, fresh perspectives of the incoming members.

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Meet Charles, Library Champion

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I was a professional manager of inspection and certification in China before I immigrated to Canada. The livable environment and climate of Vancouver has always been attractive to my family and me. After we came to Canada in 2012, I was deeply impressed by the multiculturalism and the wealth of free resources from the public libraries.

I was looking forward to integrating socially in my new life here and started to volunteer as a Library Champion of NewToBC in 2013. I enjoyed the training courses and outreach of the program, which made me feel more fulfilled and confident. As a new immigrant, I helped other newcomers get used to a new society. Also, I felt proud for making contribution to this project.

The most important thing for newcomers to understand about their libraries is that they can use all the resources for free and participate in so many kinds of activities. My library, the Richmond Public Library (RPL), is a friendly and welcoming community gathering place that offers free access to books, DVDs, computers, events, study space and many other services.  The most surprising one to me was the 3D printing services. Richmond Public Library has 4 locations that are open 7 days a week: Brighouse (Main) Branch, Cambie Branch, Ironwood Branch and Steveston Branch.  The Newcomers section of the library is specifically designed to provide information about the library, settling in BC, improve English, and more.

While volunteering for the Library Champions Project, I enrolled in ESL classes. I was able to practice my English and public speaking skills with this project and this gave me the confidence I needed to apply for my new job as a legal assistant at a law firm.

I continue to volunteer for this project as a member of the Advisory Committee. I have been doing this for three years. As a group, we organize the Library Champions Project year-end celebration and provide feedback to help improve the NewToBC website. I’ve always been proud of being a member of the LCP and the Advisory Committee and will continue enthusiastically supporting this project in the future.

I love my new home. I love the fresh air and the beautiful scenery – Stanley Park is my favourite place to go. I love how multicultural my new home is. And, I love my library.


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Meet Irene, Library Champion

From Ukraine, Irene moved to the lower mainland in 2015. She volunteered as a Library Champion for the Vancouver Public Library Oakridge branch. When asked what the biggest difference between libraries here and libraries in Ukraine, Irene answered “comparison of Ukrainian libraries and Canadian libraries is not meaningful because the countries’ economies are nowhere near each other.”

IreneI think this is why the Library Champions Project resonates so much with newcomers. Libraries are welcome centres providing information, referrals and services ranging from employment workshops, access to resources, to books and newspapers in multiple languages -something for everyone. I caught up with Irene to get her thoughts on the Library Champions volunteer opportunity.

What was your most memorable moment for this project?

I loved all the pot-lucks that our group had. Our group was very diverse, and I enjoyed exposure to national cuisine of different parts of the world.

What surprised you most about this opportunity?

I was pleasantly surprised by the vast amount of services and perks offered by the local libraries! Collection of materials in foreign languages is truly impressive. Even the locals did not known the range of services libraries here have to offer!

In what ways did this open up new opportunities for you?

I was able to explore my organizing and public speaking skills. I think practicing public speaking is important for developing self-confidence and leadership skills, and a great opportunity to practice language! Not to mention how many great people I’ve met. I had opportunities to meet librarians and learn from them about their profession. Anyone considering this career will find the Library Champions project valuable.

What recommendations do you have for people considering this opportunity?

Don’t hesitate!

What surprised you most about what you could do / find at your library?

The Inspiration Lab (complete with free training!) and the 3D-printer.

What do you think is the most useful resource available at your library?

For me personally, the most valuable is the ability to access quiet space with Internet access as well as the amount of books and magazines. Also very valuable is the various job search related workshops and the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre.

What is your favourite place to go here?

Buntzen lake and trails around it.

What would you tell others who are considering a move to Canada?

Most importantly, try to stay open, positive and optimistic!

What has been your biggest success since moving here?

I’m not sure if that’s a success, but something I’m mostly grateful for is all the kind and wonderful people I’ve met.

What is your favourite food dish?

Dark and rich coffee with a maple doughnut!

We’re currently looking for Library Champions in Port Moody, Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, Abbotsford and Coquitlam. If this is something you’d like to consider, please sign up for our information sessions.

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Meetup – Build Your Own Community

I stumbled across Meetup when I became a mother in 2008. New to my community, I was researching different activities that I could do with my baby and meet other new moms. I wanted to connect with people who had similar interests and to share experiences. A ‘Mom and Me’ Meetup group popped up in my search. It included a calendar of events and activities to do with other new mothers including coffee shop gatherings, library story time activities and hiking with babies. I nervously signed up for my first hike when my child was 5 months old.

I vividly remember showing up for this hike, with my baby in a carrier, and awkwardly introducing myself to the two other women who signed up that day. We started walking and talking and before I knew it, the hike was over. A success.

Fast forward 8 years – our family has a solid network of friends that grew from this first hike. We built our own community. Our children go to different schools, we live on different sides of the city, but we regularly plan events and activities that bring us together. I love the support and the connection, and I love that my children have this one constant network that has been there since the beginning.

“Meetup helps people find and create communities based around the ideas and activities that matter to them. Meetups can be formed around a common interest or cause, and they are sustained through regular, face-to-face gatherings.”

As a newcomer to the Lower Mainland, there are a number of MeetUps that may be of interest to you as well. You can search according to cultural affinity, job searching techniques, improving a skill-set, or a fun activity or outing.

If you click on the search box field, you can see the various categories, ranging from Arts & Culture to Sports & Recreation. You’ll also see groups specific to Language and Ethnic Identity:

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Another MeetUp, Job Search for New Immigrants in Greater Vancouver, offers support for new immigrants interested in understanding the Canadian labor market, networking, interviewing, social media and existing programs and resources in the community (they look like a welcoming bunch).


Whatever your interest, if you’re looking to expand your networks, share ideas, or find activities, Meetup might be the place to get you connected to the people who will become your community.

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Get your (Board) Game on!

What was your favourite game to play growing up?

I loved Risk. I would spend hours with my brothers and sister strategizing and contemplating how I would take over the world. On rare occasions, when I won, I would bask in the glory of sibling domination until crushed in the next game.

Board games are back. Many cafes and restaurants now furnish a variety of games on their shelves for patrons to play and connect while enjoying their stay. Board game stores are popping up to sell their wares. And, of course, libraries are offering game nights and game making activities.

Yut_sticksThe Burnaby Public Libraries is hosting a Game Crafters night in which participants will make their own board games that were invented in Asia. Each family will be able to take one or two games home with them after
construction and lessons (registration is encouraged).

The Vancouver Public Library regularly posts times for participants to play Board Games. You can drop in and play the variety of games available at the library.

Richmond Public Library offers a Family Board Game Extravaganza in which you can bring your own games, play featured games or choose another game. Your family, or your friends are welcome to join.

The Fraser Valley Regional Library (George Mackie branch) adds pizza to their Teen Night Pizza and Games with games and snacks provided by Imperial Hobby.

The Surrey Libraries (Strawberry Hill branch) has Fab Fridays where participants are invited to make crafts, play board games or watch movies.

The Port Moody Library Books and Board Games invites families to come read with their children or play any of the games held in the library.

The Coquitlam Public Library is hosting an Imagination Fair where participants can build and play with a variety of games.

Plan the time to connect and play over strategies and moves – keep your eyes on the calendars at your libraries. Spend an afternoon or evening basking in timeless and ageless fun with your family and friends. All free of charge.



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