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Shideh Taleban: The story of a library champion

libraries in BC

Shideh Taleban moved to Canada in 2009, one week after graduating from the Master of Library and Information Study in Iran. Shortly after arrival, she discovered that her previous degree was not useful here as it was not American Library Association accredited. She had a road of challenges ahead of her to get into her chosen career.

While working towards her accreditation in Canada, Shideh discovered the Library Champions project through the North Shore Muliticultural Society. Looking for an opportunity to volunteer in her chosen field, and network with others, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

The Library Champions Project, funded by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,  was created by NewToBC to help new immigrants understand the settlement information and services libraries and other communities agencies provide and to share this information with other newcomers.

What did you do as a library champion?

Being involved with the library champion project was exactly what I needed when I first came here. As a passionate new librarian, I didn’t know anyone in this field here. I even didn’t know about diversity and amount of services available at public libraries. Also as a newcomer it was a great networking opportunity.

We had three training sessions. The first focused on communication skills, public speaking and cross-cultural communications. It was amazing to get to know people from different backgrounds, in similar situations as mine, and learn about their culture and how they approach things. The second session focused on a tour of the library and presentations from librarians about all different resources and services available in public libraries – especially resources and programs available for newcomers and job seekers. The third session focused on outreach plans and strategies – how we should practice being safe, how to not to cross cultural boundaries, etc. We each then reached out to our communities of newcomers and people around us. We educated them about what we learned as a library champion and gave them our business card. We would provide monthly reports, listing how many people we reached, in what location and which resources were most helpful.

During a summer course at UBC that year, I promoted public library services to university students. It was interesting to see how many of them did not know of the useful services libraries provide.

What was your most memorable moment during your time as a volunteer?

The overall experience was memorable. Being a library champion in any setting was so interesting – with my close friends or strangers on a bus, I was sharing my love of libraries. Feeling connected to the library and learning about all the resources and services was so rewarding. I was a librarian myself but I was hearing about the same feelings from other Library Champions. I remember I was so excited to tell other people about resources or services that I knew and how it could change their lives. Since we were targeting newcomers in our communities the most, they could learn how to use libraries to help them in the immigration transition. However, I was not limiting myself to immigrants or newcomers only! I remember as a newcomer being integrated with the rest of the society and having a message to conduct was remarkable. It increased my confidence and made my transition smoother. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to give back to the new society that I was trying to integrate with. Being connected to the library and surrounded by knowledgeable, kind and efficient librarians in the training session was so comforting and, in my opinion, it was an amazing volunteering opportunity designed for newcomers with mutual benefits. Library Champions and Librarians learned from each other a lot!

What surprised you most about libraries in BC?

Honestly everything about libraries in BC surprised me! In a good way, of course. We had great university libraries in Iran, but public libraries are nothing like here. The amount of free resources, services, programs, technologies, knowledge available in public libraries in BC is mind blowing. As a librarian who went back to school here and got her second Masters in Library and Information Studies, I still get amazed by how libraries in BC are evolving every day and how community oriented they are!

What is your favourite thing about libraries in BC?

The fact that everyone is treated the same. As well, the nonstop effort of librarians to identify and address the needs of their community is astonishing.

What do you wish you had known about prior to moving to Canada?

I wish I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use my Master’s degree here. Although my degree was acceptable by UBC, in real life, I could not be a librarian here until I went back to school to re-do my Library and Information Study degree. Having known this before I came here, I would have had more realistic expectations about starting my professional career or even going back to school earlier. I think lots of skilled immigrants come here and they realize that their degree is not recognizable here. It is frustrating and makes the transition even harder!

What steps did you have to take to become a librarian in BC?

Volunteering in the field was my first step. And it started with the Library Champions project. Then I became a member of British Columbia Library Association. They were offering a mentorship program, which you would be connected to a librarian who has been in this field for a while. I had an amazing mentor at Surrey Libraries who helped me a lot and I started to work as a shelver there! I was then promoted to work as a Circulation Services Assistant. I continued to volunteer with different organizations such as Vancouver Aquarium and Vancouver Coastal Health. Unfortunately, I realized that I had to fight with UBC to get a second MLIS (Master of Library and Information Studies Degree). My university in Iran was known to them, and they felt my degree too similar for a 2nd Master’s Degree program. My reality was different as all the job postings were requesting American Library Association degree. I eventually convinced UBC that I need to study here again in order to become a librarian. You can read more about my story and how I became a librarian in Canada, in this British Columbia Library Association article and this article in the North Shore News.