Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian at the Surrey Libraries, is deeply committed to the Surrey Libraries, and has a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities that come with her new responsibility. She is a strong proponent of the Library Champions Project. In her own words:
What excites you most about your new role as Chief Librarian?
The opportunity to make positive change in people’s lives and to guide the future of the library in an incredibly rapidly growing city. Tell me what your vision is for the future of the Surrey Libraries. That there is a library in every neighbourhood in Surrey and that the library is the first place Surrey residents think of when they want to learn something new or get to know their neighbourhood.
What do you feel is the most underutilized resource of the library?
Overall I feel there is a general lack of awareness of what public libraries offer. Many newcomers do not realize the amazing array of resources or assistance available for free at their local library. And many long time residents or Canadians still have traditional notions of a library. Libraries are not just about books, they are thriving community centres where one can meet people, learn a new skill or be introduced to new ideas. So I think libraries overall are under utilized and one of my goals is to spread the word….which the Library Champions project does so well!
What is the biggest challenge that Surrey Libraries are facing?
Keeping pace with the rapid growth in the city. Over 1000 people move to Surrey each month. Surrey is geographically huge – the size of Vancouver, Richmond & Burnaby combined, and our 9 branches are located in the town centres; however, there are many neighbourhoods that are not close to a library. Transit is not adequate, so I think we are not able to reach many people who could benefit from our services.
Tell me your thoughts on the Library Champions Project.
I am impressed by the project and the dedication of the facilitators – Branka in Surrey, as well as the staff; and of course the champions themselves who make the project a success. I’m thrilled the project has been expanded to other libraries.
Have you had the opportunity to work with this project?
Yes, I participated in the steering committee for a while. I helped interview a round of champions for Surrey, and have also participated in the local wrap up events as well as the annual celebration. What impact did this project make on you personally, as well as on your libraries? I have been touched by the many stories shared by the champions….stories of struggle and hope. It reminds me of my first year in Canada – over 20 years ago now. At one session a Syrian couple who had just been in the country for 2 weeks came to volunteer. We see many people very new to the country wanting to participate and I’m always impressed by their courage. With Surrey being a destination for many newcomers, the project has been terrific for our community…one of the champions was hired for a position at the library. One champion sits on an advisory committee for the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership.
What recommendations do you have for newcomers coming to your library?
If you don’t immediately see what you need, or are unsure where to start, ask staff for help. You are not disturbing staff – that is what they are there for! Participate in the wide range of free programs, e.g. Our ESL Book Clubs are a great way to make friends. Or if you bring your children to a story time, stay afterwards to chat with the other mums. It’s a good way to build bonds in the community.
What surprises you most about your library?
That so many people are still unaware of what the library offers….we need to do a better job of reaching out.
What do you love most about Surrey?
The library works together with many community partners. People are collaborative and sincerely want to make a difference. Our library staff are friendly and caring. I love that Surrey is diverse, dynamic and growing. There is so much opportunity and potential.
Tell me something about yourself that others might not know about you.
I have a sense of adventure and enjoy trying new experiences…I’ve jumped out of a plane (with a parachute) for charity, I enjoy snowboarding, and intend to learn how to ride a motorbike at some point in my life!