Vancouver’s Chinese Community Library ‘in Limbo’ to city redevelopment, ‘too big to be absorbed by public system’

This article is a translation of the original Chinese article 大溫寶庫亟待救援 from TOHKNews.

The Chinese Community Library Services Association is Canada’s sole private library, servicing the community of Pender Street in Vancouver, BC for over 40 years with its archives of over 40,000 Chinese-language books in its collection, as well as providing a reading and community space for its readers. The books range from classical string-bound volumes, to first edition Jinyong martial arts novels, to children’s literature – a true paradise for the Chinese language reader. Due to budgetary constraints and urban redevelopment, the privately-owned institution faces threat of ceasing operations – a fate that the head librarian Herman YAN Zhong-Zik is trying to avert by fundraising and reducing expenses.

Rejecting the Public System for Keeping the Collections intact

Yan indicated that long before the Richmond Municipal Public Library was established, the City reached out to them with different proposals to integrate their collections into the public library system. Unfortunately, the public system with its management could not ensure that the Chinese collection will be permanently kept in their circulation, as well as be able to take in new donations. Hence, the Chinese Community Library continues to operate at its location to this very day.

The Chinese Community Library Services Association is a veritable trove of Chinese literature in North America.

Yan and his volunteer staff manage the daily operations of the library, including check-in and out of books, receiving donated books, and managing archival records. The staff is mostly comprised of seniors over 60 years of age, including one at 96 years old. The team also actively participates in the city’s large-scale events to promote the library, as well as organize the annual fundraiser dinner party for their operating budget. Like other libraries, Yan has various interest classes at the library as part of its ordinary event schedule to service its clientele, such as English, calligraphy, and painting classes, computer and smartphone tech support, and even an exercise and hiking group.

Seniors’ choice for Community Service

Students at the Library centre’s English class often praised Ms. Yeung, the instructor from English class for her loving patience as she taught the English letters and words. A Mrs. Wong stated that her confidence is boosted when she can now respond in simple English conversations. Ms. Yeung also believed that education is a mutual process where the challenge is the fun, and hopes that the library can muster the funds for continued operation. Another student in class claimed that the library has already become their other home, where asides from reading, they could also find friends speaking and reading the same languages, finding enjoyment in life previously unknown and rediscovering the anticipation of youth.

The library is now the gathering hub for many seniors in the area.

Ms. Lee from computer class said that through the course, she learned how to use her smartphone, which in turn could help her become independent and reduce the family members’ workload while shortening the distances between them (as pictured below). Even with elders at 70 to 80 years old, their dedication to learn and harness modern technology shows the will and effort inspired by the opportunities created in this library. The venue also has recently expanded its services to tax filing and interpretation, in hopes of expanding its utility and clientele for the community, and hopes that more people can offer monetary support to continue their dedicated efforts to fill the gap of seniors’ services in the Chinese and Cantonese-speaking community.

An enthusiastic granny accounts how she learned to use her smartphone through the library.

In Search of Funding and Affordable Rent

Mr. Yan revealed that if they had sufficient funding, they would search for a permanent site, manned by a professional library staff to create a sustainable library and information management system. This is to be coupled with other community functions such as a shared kitchen, and transportation to provide accessibility for seniors not just for reaching the library, but also for the hiking expeditions that the library organizes.

We would like to thank Jane Lee from New Hong Kong Culture Club for the field excursion and reporting from Vancouver. We at TOHK urge everyone to pay a visit and show support at the Chinese Community Library Services Association, and preserve this cultural gem built up by Hongkonger Canadians with our actions.
A plaque by local calligrapher Ka-wen Wong, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Chinese Community Library Association, dated November 2012 (First winter month of Renchen year)
魚躍龍門文中聚 “Fish Jumping the Dragon’s Gate [Social ascendance] gathers in texts,”
氣壯河山中文匯 “Grand Worlds of Rivers and Mountains converge in Chinese.”
A commemoration plaque by Don Lee of Vancouver City Council for the 30th anniversary of the Library Association in October 2002.
“宏揚中華文化 Promoting Chinese Culture
增進僑民知識 Furthering our Diaspora’s Knowledge”
Couplets adorning the library.
“居家有道先行儉 There is Way in managing the household, the first being frugality,
致富多方首在勤 Many methods in acquiring prosperity, the prime being diligence.”
Patrons at the library learn to use modern communications equipment, closing the gap with their families.
Stacks of children’s language books in boxes spread before a photo wall listing the rich history of the institution.
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