A Burnaby scholarship is making libraries more diverse.
Awarded yearly by the Burnaby Public Library, the Picard Trust Award is a $2,500 scholarship for community members who are Indigenous, Black or people of colour given by the Burnaby Public Library,
Last year’s winners, Sue Choy and Maité Mayeta Cumba, spoke to the NOW about librarianship in Burnaby and what the Picard Trust means to them.
“Libraries are always a really magical place,” says Burnaby librarian Sue Choy.
Sue Choy: Reflecting communities
Choy said the Picard Trust signifies the important direction the library is moving in regarding anti-racism.
“I never saw myself reflected in anything, like in books or TV, in politics or teachers … people in places of leadership,” Choy said.
“That has a real impact on your sense of identity and belonging, and so it’s the same for libraries.”
She noted representation is important for building a safe workplace, “but also, as well, for community members to feel like they’re reflected in their libraries — because Burnaby is super diverse.”
Choy came to librarianship later in life. As a mature student in her 50s, she said she’s always seen libraries as an important part of the community.
She finished her bachelor’s degree in sociology, anthropology and women’s studies at SFU in the ’90s.
She wanted to work with newcomer women, after seeing barriers and racism that her mother and grandmother experienced when immigrating to Canada.
While a graduate degree at library school wasn’t in the cards after her SFU graduation, she began working in the non-profit sector, where she stayed for almost 20 years, and raised her family in Burnaby.
Choy started as a clerk at Burnaby Public Library in 2013, working two jobs at the same time.
As her careers progressed, she realized she wanted to prioritize community outreach.
In conversations with senior managers at BPL, who encouraged her to pursue librarianship, she took the plunge.
She graduated from UBC’s School of Information last November and will begin work as a children’s librarian next month. She’s currently finishing a temporary position as a community librarian in Burnaby.
“I love librarianship because it’s really empowering community. I think it builds community and it’s so gratifying to see people find things for themselves that make their life better — and for them to connect with other people … and just to find the resources that they need to move forward in their life.”
Maité Mayeta Cumba: ‘Like a family’
Mayeta Cumba immigrated to Burnaby from Cuba in 2006.
She said the recognition of an award like the Picard Trust is significant.
“It takes time to find your way in a new country, ‘Oh, I can be recognized and do this job well’ … and the financial help, it’s the best of both worlds,” she said.
When she arrived in Canada, Mayeta Cumba began an ESL program and took a volunteer position at her college’s library where her interest in librarianship began.
Going on to complete a library technician program at Langara College, she began working as a clerk in local libraries, most recently at Burnaby Public Library.
“Burnaby Public Library has been like a family. It’s like finding people who have similar interests as you, who are very dedicated to the work that they do. There is a culture of … being supportive of each other.”
“I’m going to library school because I got all this support from my co-workers,” she said.
She credited the diversity of the staff in profession, cultures and languages, that made her feel supported to continue her education.
After she finishes her library school master’s at UBC (her second graduate degree after studying art history in Cuba), she hopes to continue working for the Burnaby community.
How to apply
The Picard Trust is now open for applications from Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are Burnaby residents or current employees of BPL who are accepted to a master’s program at a Canadian library school.
Applicants can apply online on the library’s website by Feb. 28.
“We know that increasing the diversity of librarians at BPL and in the broader library community will lead to stronger library services that meet the needs of more residents,” said library board co-chair Mandy Yang in a news release.
Mayeta Cumba encouraged people to consider librarianship, citing the community-oriented nature of the job, as well as advancements in technology and information studies.
“If you like knowledge, information and change – this is the right profession for you.”
“The idea of the librarian is changing, and it’s more community-oriented, and that’s good because that’s what makes our jobs helpful to society.”