Surinder Bhogal oversees nine libraries in one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. Her successful career started over 20 years ago when she first arrived in Greater Vancouver and struggled to find a job.
“It was really challenging. I came from England and thought that it would be easier to find a job in another Western country. But, it was a real shock to try to secure employment without having that network of job-related contacts here.”
Bhogal, who holds a Master of Library and Information Sciences from the UK, began working at a Chapters Bookstore to gain local experience and, luckily, soon found employment with Surrey Libraries.
She worked her way up the ranks to become Surrey’s chief librarian, and her achievements along the way make her a testament to how new immigrants can bring unique skills and abilities to the Canadian workforce, including Surrey Libraries.
“We welcome immigrants and people who are a reflection of the communities that we serve,” she says. “Libraries are the ultimate equalizer – they’re a place in modern society that anyone can access, regardless of age or race or socio-economic background.”
As an equal opportunities employer, Surrey Libraries recognizes that talented applicants can come from a variety of backgrounds. This makes it easier for newcomers to break into the field and often results in a more diverse workforce with unique advantages.
Bhogal recalls how Surrey Libraries Diwali and Chinese New Year celebrations benefitted from having staff familiar with cultural nuances and connections with ethnic communities in Greater Vancouver.
“Having a knowledge of the customs and cultures of different communities is a real asset,” says Bhogal. “I’m always impressed by the willingness and enthusiasm of our staff.”
One such staff member, Ilona Stachura, got her start with Surrey Libraries as a part-time librarian in January 1999, after immigrating to Canada from Poland. One year later, she was given a permanent position and now sources English language texts for Surrey Libraries, drawing from her memories of learning English to inform her decisions.
“I came to Canada after finishing my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science in Poland,” says Stachura. “I did not really know English, so had to learn the language first.”
“Once I started working with Surrey Libraries, I felt that I was contributing to the community and felt useful.”
“Meaningful employment is crucial for a newcomer’s self-esteem and self-sufficiency, as well as for his or her long-term integration in their new homeland,” says Patrick MacKenzie, CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC. “It is often through a meaningful job that a person learns, grows, and develops networks, and acquires language skills.”
Bhogal still reels when recalling her journey from working minimum wage at a local bookstore, to heading Surrey Libraries. Looking back at it now, she recognizes how lucky she has been to be able to live her dream and give back to others pursuing their career aspirations in an adopted country.
“I would have never imagined that this could happen 20 years ago when I first came to Canada,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to be in a career where I can continue to grow and give back to my community.”