Three things I love in life: books, free stuff and DIY community-building projects. When the global pandemic shut down both public gatherings and public libraries this spring, it seemed an ideal time to join the Little Free Library revolution.
You know what I’m talking about: those cute little sidewalk book-bins that have been popping up in yards, driveways, parks and street corners all over Victoria lately. Started by Wisconsin’s Todd Bol back in 2009, the Little Free Library (LFL) movement has since swept the world, with over 100,000 registered LFLs in more than 100 countries. Victoria boasts more LFLs than any other Canadian city—over 350 and growing quickly—as well as an interactive map (victoriaplacemaking.ca/little-free-libraries/#librariesmap) showing locations and photos of them all, thanks to the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network (victoriaplacemaking.ca).
For a city full of readers, not only did the COVID shutdown transform the LFL network from a quirky hobby to a neighbourhood necessity, but it also afforded me the time to build and install my own library. Crafted out of a discarded bedside table and scrap hardware for a total cost of about $8 (for hinges), our library has since become a go-to destination, thanks to a snazzy paint job and a community of readers who have been picking up and dropping-off with abandon.
But creating it was only part of the fun: I also decided to statistically track the first four months of our LFL’s shelf life. Between April 26 and August 16, we saw 661 books come and go, with fiction far outweighing nonfiction (535:126), paperbacks exceeding hardcovers (520:141), and works by women trumping those by men (430:204). Mysteries, children’s books, cookbooks, thrillers and literary fiction have been most popular; least popular was a sports biography, which languished for 32 days before finally being checked out. Busy? You bet: our most active days have seen nearly 30 individual check-ins and check-outs.
More surprising, though, have been the non-book items that get placed in our library, including—but certainly not limited to—reading glasses, road maps, drill bits, greeting cards, cake sprinkles, squirt guns, VHS tapes, music of all kinds (LPs, CDs, 45s, cassettes, DVDs) and even two loaves of bread.
While I’ve loved having a free source of books—my reading list has never been so diverse!—it’s also been a great way to put my passion to work for the community good. From experiences like living in small-town B.C. to participating in the early years of Burning Man, my family have long been participants and creators of community-building projects ranging from participatory murals and telephone-pole painting to cardboard castles and Halloween driveway installations; installing a LFL was simply the next logical step in engaging with people from the sidewalk up.
Having recently completed my second LFL (watch for a bright orange school bus coming soon to George Jay Elementary School), I’ve learned that you don’t need a lot of time or skill to build your own. True, some are built to be small-scale replicas of the houses in front of which they stand, while others offer architectural flourishes to amaze and delight; but in the hundred or so I’ve visited around Victoria over the past six months, I’ve seen just as many made out of old kitchen cabinets, wooden crates, newspaper boxes, steamer trunks and even a vintage radio cabinet. (But if even the thought of construction gives you splinters, you can also order a ready-to-assemble option from the official Little Free Library organization.)
As a journalist, writing instructor and admitted word-nerd, it’s hard to believe it took a global pandemic for me to finally embrace my inner librarian. Next time you’re walking along Fernwood Road in Victoria, be sure to drop by our Fernwood Re-Public Library: you just might find your new favourite book that you didn’t know you were missing.