English isn’t a requirement to experience local libraries.
That’s the message librarian Minakshi Sidhu is trying to share through a new program at North Delta’s George Mackie Library, one that allows library users to book individual sessions with a librarian in Punjabi or Hindi.
“This idea is an old idea, book-a-librarian, in other languages,” Sidhu said. “But it works all the time. It’s just, we have something. You can talk to somebody in your native language.”
Sidhu first worked at the George Mackie Library in 2010, offering computer lessons in both Punjabi and Hindi.
“We would have line ups, and long waiting lists,” she said. “I thought this is a really good service to provide. It’s reflecting our services and how we want everybody to feel [they] belong to their local library.”
Now that’s she back at the Mackie as the community librarian, taking over for now-retired Frances Thomson, she wanted to bring a similar program back. But the needs of the community, she found, are a little different than what they were eight years ago.
“They have bachelor degrees, so their needs might be different than 10 years ago when they wanted to learn computers,” she said about the immigrant community. “Now they want to search jobs, contribute right away, because they are highly educated.”
Sidhu is the only librarian that speaks both languages and has been offering the sessions twice a week since the beginning of July. She is available Mondays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to noon, for bookings.
The scope of each session is different, depending on what the community member needs, Sidhu said. Sometimes it’s an introduction to the library’s many online resources for skill upgrading, job searching or language learning. Other times it could be referrals to an outside resource, or a general overview of the libraries.
“Sometimes people think that libraries are books and nothing else,” she said. “Well, those days are gone.”
Now, as the community librarian, Sidhu finds the book-a-librarian program not only brings more people to the library, but also helps her get an understanding of the type of programming they would like to see.
“Sometimes they have questions, but they hesitate and they shy away from asking, or telling,” she said. “That telling might be very, very valuable.
“‘Unless I tell you what I think, you can’t help me.’”
Sidhu knows the importance of libraries well, through her career and her own experience as an immigrant. Sidhu came to Canada from India in December 2004.
“When I was a new immigrant, I know the first step I took was going to the local library,” she said.
“Although I had tons of experience, every other country is different,” Sidhu continued. “It answered quite a few of my questions: what is required, how can I make it happen.”
The program at the George Mackie Library is still new, but Sidhu has high hopes for its future.
“I want people to take benefit out of it,” she said. “I want more people to come to the libraries. I want them to take this information into the community so they can help other people, because this is their library as well.”
“The face of North Delta is changing,” she continued. She hopes that more community services will come to North Delta, so the library can partner with them, but for now, “wherever we see the need, we have to be there.”
“This is the first step, offering something in their own language.”
Anyone interested in booking Sidhu for an appointment is invited to call the library at 604-594-8155, or visit the library in person.