How libraries can help newcomers adjust to life in Canada

October 9, 2021

By Canadian Immigrant Magazine |

More than just reading material, libraries across the country offer a wide range of services such as settlement resources, learning opportunities, meeting spaces, fun activities and more.

When Nigeria-born saxophonist, songwriter and arts manager Perpie Nwaefido came to Canada, she discovered one place where she could find all kinds of help she needed as a newcomer. This was at the Calgary Public Library.

“It was such a different experience from the one I had in my country,” she says as she recalls her surprise. “Back home the library is just a place you go every now and then, because you probably have most of the books in the school library or in your own home collection – libraries there are not regularly purchasing new titles and updating their catalogues, so not much to do when you visit them.”

She found she could access a wide range of resources. “I could come every day to Calgary Public Library and spend hours reading, researching, using the computers and receiving invaluable professional help in so many areas – from interview skills and resume writing to music production. The library even lent me musical instruments. I also enrolled my children in a chess club.”

Much more than books

Runnymede branch, Toronto. Photo credit: Toronto Public Library.

Across the country, public libraries provide newcomers like Nwaefido with free information and settlement services, job search assistance, learning opportunities including free English and French classes, courses in computers and new technologies, lectures on health, personal finance and legal issues, etc.

Visitors can find just about anything – programs and activities for children and adults, groups who share similar hobbies and interests and even free passes for galleries and museums.

At the branches, visitors have free access to computers and wireless internet. Scanners are also available in most places. There are locations where members can book study rooms and meeting rooms.

Newcomers who consider starting their own businesses in Canada can also join various libraries’ initiatives for entrepreneurs. And there are even preparation classes for the Canadian citizenship test.

To ensure the wide variety of services to newcomers, most public libraries collaborate with settlement agencies and organizations. Toronto Public Library, for example, provides settlement support at 14 of its branches through the Library Settlement Partnership – a project funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The Partnership involves the Toronto Public Library and seven local settlement agencies.

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