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More than books: How Libraries Can Help Newcomers


Libraries: Community, Cultural, and Intellectual Spaces – By Sanam

Libraries are one of the first points of contact for newcomers, providing a safe multilingual and cultural environment. When I moved to Vancouver, I visited the West Vancouver Memorial Library and was amazed by all the programs and resources that were available to me. The services and programs played an important role in my adaptation to my new country.

Because I had such a positive experience at my local library, I started looking for volunteer and work opportunities at North Shore libraries. I found, and volunteered for, the Library Champions Project at the North Vancouver City Library and West Vancouver Memorial Library. This project had four training sessions and two check-in sessions. In the training sessions we learned effective communication strategies, as well as tactics to deal with language barriers and cultural differences. We were provided library tours to better understand how to introduce other newcomers to the libraries.

After all the positive experiences I had with public libraries, I became interested in working at one. I did my research about the field, and I enrolled in the Library Technician Program at Langara College. I learned about library technologies, cataloging, online search methods and databases. Two months from starting this program, I got my first library job at my local public library.

I work in two departments at a public library: I catalog Farsi books in Collections Department, and I work in Technology and Communications Department. Some days, I teach computer classes at the library, and I set up our Lab with computers, digitizers, or robots.

I think libraries are community, cultural, and intellectual spaces that connect people. They are inclusive and welcoming spaces for people with different skill sets, ages, gender, ethnicities, languages, and religions.

Most people are surprised when they discover what is available at their library. People can access 3D printers at the Coquitlam Public Library, Virtual Reality kits and Robots at the Fraser Valley Regional Library, and film digitizers at Surrey Libraries. The Inspiration Lab at the Vancouver Public Library allows you to create and publish your own eBook. The North Vancouver City Library offers a Seed Library in which you can borrow seeds to grow your own food. You can learn how to knit and crochet or check-out jigsaw puzzles at the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Many libraries offer classes and programs specifically for new immigrants to help them integrate and settle in their new community. People can find books in their language at most public libraries, as well as ESL materials in books and audio books. There are ESL classes, Conversation Circles and Library Tours available. Some libraries offer Settlement Services for newcomers to help find information about employment or volunteer opportunities. The Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre at Vancouver Public Library is another valuable resource for immigrants to help them navigate their career paths. There are also many services to support newcomer children in their preparation for school. The role of libraries is to identify and remove barriers that exist for the people in their community.

My job has added a lot of value to my life. It has increased my sense of belonging to my community and made me independent in many aspects of my life. I did not fully understand the challenges of moving to a new country until I arrived here and started my new life. I remember one Library Champion sharing: “immigration is like taking out a healthy plant from its roots and planting it somewhere else with different conditions. Shortly you’ll notice that your plant is changing. Some of the leaves may turn yellow and some of them may fall no matter how much you take care of your plant.” I don’t think anyone ever described immigration better than this.

I know it’s hard for newcomers to find their first job in Canada, especially if they don’t have any work experience in their new country. I believe volunteering with a program, such as the Library Champions Project, will make their job search process significantly easier.