BCLA Perspectives

NewToBC: A Library Link for Newcomer Immigrants and Refugees

NewToBC is a collaborative library settlement initiative that was born out of the desire of libraries throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley to support newcomer immigrants and refugees and immigrant service providers in their communities, and to provide better access to the impressive range of library-based settlement resources and services.

The Library Champions Project (LCP) is NewToBC’s expansive newcomer volunteer community engagement initiative. The idea for the LCP stemmed from two immigrant women in Surrey who informed their local library that many newcomers are unaware of the riches that lay within. The women proposed that newcomers could reach out to and educate other newcomers about library services as well as offer a cultural lens for libraries to learn about the kinds of things newcomers need to settle in British Columbia and in Canada.  Since those women spoke up in Surrey, the project has graduated over 1,000 Champions and continues its outreach to newcomers across the region.

The LCP is based on a philosophy that respects the knowledge and the experience of each Library Champion and a belief that each Library Champion has a unique and impactful contribution to make to their new communities.

The LCP follows a simple format. Frist, they train immigrants and refugees to help other newcomers discover the range of resources and services available at libraries in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Then, through the training program, Library Champions build communication, presentation and outreach skills in order to learn about the range of settlement programs, services, and resources available in their local libraries and through other organizations in their communities. Finally, they draft and act upon a three-month outreach plan through which they share settlement information settlement information with friends, family, colleagues and other community members. On average, each Library Champion shares information with about 70 other new immigrants in one on one and group settings. As of December 2017, more than 1000 new immigrants and refugees have been trained as Library Champions and these Library Champions have reached out to more than 65,000 other new immigrants and refugees.

The skills and capacities developed through the Library Champions Project’s training program as well as the opportunity to gain valuable volunteer experience are certainly beneficial to Library Champions. However, many Library Champions have eloquently expressed additional benefits associated with their participation in the project, including a fuller understanding of and deeper connectedness to their communities.

“This program allowed me to know what libraries have to offer as well as relate to other newcomer Canadians. I got to know new people from different cultures and countries and this made it more entertaining and meaningful.” – Lila 

“Libraries became my second home, and I noticed that no matter what age, we all belong. We have people from different regions, countries, colours, races, religions and cultures. We love and respect each other without any bias. I believe this diversity makes Canada one of the greatest countries in the world. Realizing this, I would not have stressed so much about adapting to this new country, lifestyle and people.” – Adris

“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.” – Shideh Taleban

Many Library Champions feel supported through their participation in the project and therefore gain confidence and more prepared to take chances in their settlement.

“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!” – Shideh Taleban

“I was able to practice my English and public speaking skills with this project and this gave me the confidence I needed to apply for my new job as a legal assistant at a law firm.” – Charles

The Library Champions Project provides newcomers with opportunities to grow their social networks and make connections with other members of their communities. It also helps newcomers realize that they can make contributions that have the capacity to not only change their own lives, but also the lives of others in their communities.

NewToBC is managed by Public Library InterLINK. The project represents the eighteen public library systems in the Public Library InterLINK federation. The project was established by the Government of British Columbia in 2012. NewToBC is currently funded through a Contribution Agreement with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. NewToBC develops and regularly updates settlement information resources that are uploaded to the NewToBC website and promoted through a network of libraries, numerous immigrant serving agencies, on social media, and through outreach performed by Library Champions.

>Andrea Williamson is the Social Media Consultant with NewToBC.