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My Library: The Passport to Lifelong Learning by Erie Maestro

Posted by Leo Cunanan, Jr.
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My four-year-old daughter and I were new immigrants in 1991 when we arrived in Winnipeg. One of the first things we did was to visit the big library downtown to get our library cards. We were not prepared for what we saw when we entered the library — two moving escalators on the main floor! My daughter stood still, her mouth wide open, and then she whispered, “Nanay, department store ito?” I whispered back, “Hindi, Anak. Library. Ang laki, ano?” We fell in love with the library and our love affair with libraries was sealed. My daughter and I later moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and after ten years, moved to Vancouver, where libraries continued to be important parts in both our lives.

As immigrants in Canada, we are very fortunate to be in a country with a strong and solid public library system, where the public library exists as a library for all. However, for many reasons, including the lack of a similar public library system in our home country, we do not, as a rule, gravitate naturally to the library when we migrate here. I stronglyMy Library:The Passport toLifelong Learningbelieve that the library should be one of the first stops for Pinoy new immigrants and migrants in their first weeks of arrival, as they settle down to their new lives and new work in Canada.

Free quality programs — for babies, toddlers, school-aged children and teens up to adults and seniors — take place in libraries. In my babytime and family storytime programs at my VPL branch, I see an increasing number of Filipino families, as well as Filipino caregivers who bring the children in their care. For the latter, I know that the routine of coming to and using the library will be there when their own families join them in Canada.

PINOY storytimes at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) are always a big hit. The cultural and language connections resonate when children (and their parents) hear, sing and dance to the rhymes and songs, both traditional and new. In the early literacy program Nanay Gansa (Parent and Child Mother Goose Program in Filipino), parents learn and re-learn Pinoy rhymes, songs and stories and build on their strengths becoming more confident and comfortable doing these with their young children. These Pinoy programs reinforce the message that nothing can replace the singing, rhyming and talking to their young children and that doing so in our languages like Tagalog, Ilokano, Bisaya, and Kapampangan is more than alright as well, for these are the languages of our homes and of our hearts.


Every month, VPL offers a variety of quality programs and events for all which include author readings, civic dialogues, movie nights, book clubs, writing workshops, popular book sales, the annual book and writing camp and the Summer Reading Club. There is also community-oriented programming, oftentimes taking place outside of the library. This is spearheaded by children’s and adult community librarians in their work of breaking down barriers to community use and access of libraries. For more services offered by the library – it takes only a phone call, email or visit to find out.

For new immigrants, VPL provides services that include employment workshops, job search tours, the yearly employment job fair, small business tours, and the Skilled Immigrant Infocentre which provides career and job search information in specific trades or professions. Those wanting to improve their English language skills can visit any of the ESL Learning Centres at several VPL branches; it must be noted that migrants with work permits are eligible to access this service. And those preparing for the Canadian citizenship test, VPL has the guide, useful links and websites to assist ourkababayan for this important stage in their lives.

Wanting to learn some computer skills? Free workshops on computer basics, internet and email and more are available to adults and seniors. There is even a Tech Cafe at Central, where anyone can drop in and learn about technology, assisted by library staff, in an open lab setting. Don’t have a computer or Internet access at home? Visit the library to use the public internet terminals or access the library Wi-Fi!

As a librarian who reads, writes and speaks in Filipino, I am proud to say that VPL has the Tagalog language collection, which with 14 other language collections, mirrors the diverse Vancouver landscape. Tagalog books for children and adults, romance paperbacks, non-fiction books, Tagalog movies, and very soon, magazines! Check out these Tagalog collections at the Central Library, the Mount Pleasant, South Hill and Kensington branches. Outside of the VPL, Richmond Public Library also boasts of its recent addition of the Scotiabank Filipiniana collection of Tagalog and English materials.

For those who ordinarily may not be able to come and use the library, VPL’s Outreach Services offer just that – reaching out to them by providing library material and services to home-bound and disabled people and those in care facilities.

The Vancouver Public Library is one of the most important community spaces in our city. It is a valuable resource, with over two million items in its 22 branches which over 6 million visited in 2010! That would be an average of about 22, 000 people coming into the Vancouver Public Library every day, not counting the 14,000 people who logged into the library website, via the Internet, every day in 2010.

Public libraries are one of the most democratic of institutions where each one is welcome; where age, income, race, language, ability and immigration status do not matter. We are all lucky to have a public library in our neighbourhood.And if you happen to visit my branch, please do not hesitate to come up to me and say “Kamusta!”

Erie Maestro: Pinoy immigrant, librarian, archivist and Nanay to Inday. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez is to be believed when he says, “I’ve always imagined heaven to be a kind of library,” then heaven is where I work.






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