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7 Ways Libraries and Their Librarians Help Newcomers Adapt to Life in Canada

Posted on: May 14, 2021

Coming to a new country can be challenging, but local librarians are making it easier

7 Ways Libraries and Their Librarians Help Newcomers Adapt to Life in Canada

Emily is a Community Librarian with the Vancouver Public Library. In this blog, Emily shares her experience working with newcomers in BC to ensure they are welcomed, connected to their libraries and connected to their new communities.

1. Librarians Know Their Stuff

As Community Librarians, it is our job to know about the many resources that libraries have to offer and to help library patrons access these. Every day, library staff strive to provide person-centred service by understanding the needs of the patron and responding in kind. Everyone is approached with curiosity, flexibility, and empathy. Librarians look forward to answering any questions patron’s have.

“While working at the Information Desk, I observed people apologizing when asking for help because they do not want to bother me. My job is to help! I thank people for reaching out and asking questions and encourage people to continue asking!”

7 Ways Libraries and Their Librarians Help Newcomers Adapt to Life in Canada

2. Libraries Are Social and Community Hubs

The library is a social and community hub. The staff and patrons bring the library to life. Patrons can engage with ideas and information through programming and collections, and with each other. An example of this is when one of our Community Librarians participated in the NewToBC Library Champions Project, leading a presentation on library services for volunteers. Volunteers, in turn, had an opportunity to engage with one another, share common experiences, and build connections to their new community.

3. Librarians Respond to the Needs of Their Patrons

Historically, Community Librarians would reach out to newcomers through visiting the ISSofBC Welcome Centre or through community meal programs. We would give out library cards and free, donated books while introducing newcomers to the services that libraries offer. Over subsequent visits and chats, we learn more about their needs and interests. At the nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch, I learned of Syrian families new to the neighbourhood who wanted to access Arabic children’s books and I set up a collection for them in the branch. They were so happy.

Anyone can recommend what they would like to see at the library through online forms such as:

4. Librarians Remove Barriers

As a Community Librarian, I work at building relationships with community members and partners. These relationships are the foundation for putting a community-led approach into action; learning what people need from the library and working to meet those needs. We evaluate barriers that prevent people from using the library. Library fines, for example, are a barrier for many. Some patrons simply cannot afford to pay for these. We have, at times, cleared some or all the amount owing to ensure that a person can continue using library services, and we are exploring how Vancouver Public Library (VPL) can provide a fine-free service in our communities. 

7 Ways Libraries and Their Librarians Help Newcomers Adapt to Life in Canada

5. Libraries are Safe Spaces No Matter Your Immigration Status

Many newcomers are surprised to learn about the ‘Access to Vancouver Public Library Services without Fear Policy.’ This policy supports access to Vancouver Public Library services by Vancouver residents with uncertain or no immigration status who fear detention, psychological or physical harm, or deportation when accessing services. The policy enables these residents to use municipal services and do so without fear that the Library will ask for and provide information about their immigration status to other institutions or orders of government unless required by law. We are committed to meeting the diverse needs of people arriving and living in Vancouver. We invite participation and engagement and provide safe access to our services. A library is a free place for everyone to discover, create, and share ideas and information.

6. Libraries Help Newcomers Find Work

The Vancouver Public Library’s Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre is an online and in-person resource centre that helps newcomers find the information needed to get a job, explore careers, or start a business. The InfoCentre services are free and accessible for anyone living in all of the Lower Mainland.

7. Libraries Are FUN

We recently learned that our funding request was approved for the purchase of a book bike! This cargo bike is a library on wheels that will be an extension of the library. We will be moving throughout the city in this very fun and sustainable new way and connecting with people on the streets of Vancouver! We will bring the library to the community, carrying books and more, to expand outreach and outdoor programming; just what we need when our indoor programming is so limited. We are so excited!

If you are a newcomer living in the Lower Mainland, you can contact your local library to determine what services and programs are available to you. Each library community is responsive to the needs of their patrons. You simply have to ask.