Learn About Surrey From the Surrey Libraries Team
Tania Thomas is the Community Outreach to Newcomer Families at the Surrey Libraries. She and her team generate a newsletter ‘What’s Happening in Surrey for Newcomers’ each month. This newsletter contains information about upcoming newcomer or newcomer relevant programs offered by community organizations in Surrey. We were lucky enough to connect with Tania about her role, her work in helping newcomers connect to the library, and how she and her coworkers have had to shift gears to meet demand during the pandemic. This is a two-part blog post as there is so much to learn from Tania’s experiences.
What Is A Community Outreach Librarian?
My name is Tania Thomas. I have been the Community Outreach Librarian to newcomer families since 2016. I deliver outreach programs, and work with partner organizations to improve services for newcomers. Surrey Libraries are unique in that they have a librarian position focused exclusively on newcomer engagement. Many other library systems do not have dedicated outreach roles; rather this is often juggled at the side of one’s desk. Surrey Libraries have an intentional strategic goal of newcomer integration.
At Surrey Libraries, the role of Community Librarian includes innovating programs, creating resources and tools, and advocating for newcomer families within the libraries. It requires strong networking to share information with community partners. Building relationships is crucial to the success of this role. Newcomer families have forged relationships with varied service providers, and I, in turn, need to connect with organizations to extend that relationship to the library.
I provide outreach and programs with 4 main groups:
- I deliver informational workshops to parents,
- I deliver storytimes to parents and young children together,
- I visit teens and young adults in school, and
- I build capacity in the community by delivering training workshops for service providers.
What Experiences Do Librarians Have?
Before I joined Surrey Libraries, I studied child development and language development. My background was in public health and instruction. Here, I supported children’s social and communication development with parent training, and with play-based speech and language activities.
People come to work in libraries with all sorts of previous experience! I have colleagues who were EAL instructors, IT managers, and social workers. Some are authors, some were early childhood educators, and some have worked in libraries since they were teenagers. What brings us all to public service is a common desire to help people get the information they need to live better, connect with others, integrate with their community, grow, and succeed.
What Do Newcomers Need to Know About Surrey Libraries?
- Libraries cards and borrowing from the library is free!
- You do not need a library card to come to the library.
- You do not need to speak English to come to the library. Information is translated into many languages, and libraries use translation services, such as Google Translate or phone interpreters to communicate. Additionally, many staff speak multiple languages.
- The library has books, for adults and for kids, DVDs, and CDs in many languages, alongside English language learning materials, and apps you can access free with your library card.
- The library has free programs for all ages including English conversation classes, book clubs, storytimes, resume and interview workshops, computer classes, and more.
- The library can refer you to programs and services in your community, such as tutoring, homework help, job fairs, English classes, citizenship classes, preschool programs, food banks, free counselling, and more.
We want the library to be a place where newcomers feel like they belong. I welcome ideas on how to make Surrey Libraries a more useful, helpful, comfortable place for newcomers and their families. Change starts through feedback. I bring this feedback to my managers, I advocate on behalf of these suggestions, and work towards changes to make the library more welcoming, engaging, and inclusive. Suggestions can be sent through email at RKitano@surrey.ca or by phone at 604-592-7039. You can also reach the Manager of Multicultural Services, Ravi Basi, at RKBasi@surrey.ca.
What Do Newcomers Want From Their Libraries?
Overwhelmingly, newcomers express a need for language support. The library, and many other organizations, struggle to find staff with language expertise in Surrey’s common refugee languages, especially Somali and Tigrinya. For this reason, I encourage newcomers to apply for employment in libraries and settlement agencies. A high school diploma qualifies applicants to obtain employment as a library customer service associate. Many people employed by libraries will often upgrade with a Library Technician diploma from Langara College (who will be hosting online information sessions May 3, and June 3).
I frequently hear from newcomers that visiting the library can be intimidating and overwhelming. To meet this need, I have created a visual guide about the library that introduces routines, behaviour expectations, and portrays what the space looks like.
We have found that proof of residence can be a barrier for newcomers, especially refugees and youth. To meet this need, the library has postcards at every library branch for Surrey residents that can be mailed to the prospective library cardholder. Once the postcard arrives at their home, patrons can bring it back to the library to obtain their free library card.
The pandemic has brought forth a need for libraries to reimagine their service models. In our next blog post, Tania will explain how Surrey Libraries adapted their service models to continue offering support while constrained with the limitations the pandemic brought fort. Until then, be sure to connect to the Surrey Libraries (or your own library in your neighbourhood)! The doors are open, and the staff are ready to help you in any way they can. Sign up for the “What’s Happening in Surrey for Newcomers” newsletter and stay informed with the events and programs in your community.