Vancouver Island newcomers can soon become Library Champions

The Library Champions Project at the Vancouver Island Regional Library aims to connect new Canadians to resources and community in the new place they call home.

A three-month-long online program that connects new immigrants to the library and community they now call home is launching across various Vancouver Island Regional Library branches. 

Library Champions Project engages permanent residents in online discussions and presentations with other newcomers, connecting them to community resources, services and even job opportunities.

Ayesha Humayun, who recently participated in the program with Okanagan Regional Library, says the online format gave her the ability to connect with the program from a more remote location.

“I could participate in presentations that I could not access in person because they were too far away, or I was somewhere else. And that meant so many more people who I got to meet.”

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Having operated in the Lower Mainland for the past 10 years, the program has connected roughly 1,800 new immigrants to volunteer opportunities and resources available from their library. 

Over three months, participants learn about what their library offers, develop a presentation on an aspect that caught their attention, then give a talk to other Library Champions participants. 

The weekly meetings offer a chance for participants to work on language skills, connect with job and housing resources and explore the activities at the library. For many immigrants, their new library offers services they didn’t have access to previously.

“I come from Pakistan,” Humayun explains. “And there a library is just for you check out a book and you read in silence there or at home. Here there are so many other things.”

“There was lego in the kids’ section, and children were encouraged to play in the library. And you can access computers, check out movies and so many other things. And there is a 3D printer. I tell teens now about the 3D printer and they are so shocked the library has that to use for free.”

Library Champions, resources and resumes

“It’s an opportunity for them to learn what libraries offer,” echoes Reena Didi-Bansal, Library Champions facilitator. Before her work with Library Champions, Didi-Bansal worked as a career coach and often saw the challenges new citizens faced. 

“The number one barrier that many newcomers share is their difficulty to find their first Canadian job. And that they’re looking for volunteer opportunities, which they can include on their resume. So I feel like this project is amazing. And it really serves that purpose.”

At the end of the course, participants receive a reference contact from Library Champions as well as a certificate of completion. Both become resources to add to resumes. That, coupled with connections made throughout the program, assures Didi-Bansal of the impact Library Champions is creating.

“Networks increase their sense of belonging, but also give back to the community, which is huge,” Didi-Bansal explains. As permanent residents settle in, often there is a desire to give back to the community, and many Library Champion alumni are now working with other newcomers, either as career practitioners or settlement advisors, she adds.

The Library Champions Project is part of the NewToBC initiative which aims to connect new immigrants with resources to settle in B.C. The project is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and managed by Public Library InterLINK. At the moment, participants must have recently gained permanent residency in Canada. Those interested in the program must first register to attend an information session online.

When asked if residents who don’t fit the criteria seek the program out, Didi-Bansal says, “We get that all the time.” She encourages them to personally reach out to their library and see what other opportunities might be available.

As for Humayun, she encourages any new permanent resident to check out Library Champions.

“There is so much at your library. I am accessing Rosetta stone. I am getting my credentials verified for work, someone through the library is helping. There is so much there to help you. Just too much to list.” [end]

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