BCLA Perspectives

Working in a Cultural Mosaic: The BCLA Multicultural Services Committee

According to Welcome BC, “almost 30 percent of British Columbians immigrated to B.C. from another country. Just under one-quarter of the people in B.C. are a visible minority. Another five percent of the population is Indigenous.”[1] If we translate that quote into numbers we find that it’s about 1.5 million, 1.2 million and 240,000 respectively. Many of them are library users already, but many more are yet to find us.

Canada is a welcoming country. However, a good portion of those immigrants and minorities face several barriers in their everyday lives, including, but not only, limited language skills, lack of jobs, poverty, cultural difficulties and racism.[2] Libraries are committed, of course, to help them overcome and eliminate those barriers with staff support, collections and welcoming spaces. The reality of how well we’re doing it, however, can be complicated.

Library staff face many challenges when it comes to connecting with and serving those communities. The challenges are present in many forms:

  • What’s the best way to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English?
  • How to interact with a man who doesn’t want to shake my hand?
  • How do I tell a woman she is welcome to stay as long as she wants if this is her first time in a library?
  • What’s the best strategy to reach out to a community that’s not using the library?
  • How do I help a fellow human being that’s struggling with life but can’t understand me?

The BCLA Multicultural Services Committee works towards improving service to those communities in BC. We provide training to library staff, recommendations for developing collections in languages other than English, discuss and share information regarding multicultural services and collections in our libraries and, whenever possible, provide help, support, resources and experience to libraries working with multicultural communities.

We also embark in special projects. We are about to launch, for example, a Racism in Libraries survey that, ideally, will help us capture a wide picture of incidents in and around libraries and their staff and patrons. The survey will go out in the Spring of 2018 and findings will be shared later in the year.

If you want to know more about the BCLA Multicultural Services Committee, visit our website. New members are always welcome. To join or for more information, connect with our committee chairs, Jessica Whu at [email protected] or Jorge Cardenas at [email protected].

>Jessica Whu is the Web Librarian at Vancouver Public Library.

>Jorge Cardenas is the Community Outreach Librarian at Burnaby Public Library.


[1] https://www.welcomebc.ca/Choose-B-C/Explore-British-Columbia/Multicultural-B-C

[2] https://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/ff0212_immigration.pdf