Twelve-year-old Saajin Mann can’t visit his school’s library right now, so he was thrilled when the librarian at Canyon Heights Elementary showed up to his front steps with books Friday morning.
“My son was just so happy, it was like Christmas,” said Kulvir Mann, Saajin’s mom, and a North Vancouver School District trustee. “He hasn’t put the books down since they were delivered at nine this morning.”
The delivery was made by Canyon Heights Elementary librarian Ian Cunliffe, known to his students as “Mr. C.”
Cunliffe launched a bookmobile program to deliver reading materials and a hearty dose of cheer to the nearly 400 students of his school who are stuck at home and without access to the school library during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“My son is really missing the school. Going to the library is a big thing for all the kids at Canyon Heights, because everybody looks forward to going to the library and hanging out with Mr. C,” said Mann.
Recalling West Vancouver’s old bookmobile from decades past, Cunliffe says in the weeks following the closure of all B.C. schools due to the virus he was struck with the idea to take his library on the road.
“All that came rushing back, that sense of wonder and joy about having a library show up outside your house. I thought, let’s try that,” said Cunliffe.
Saajin was so happy to be the 1st Delivery for “Mr C’s Book 📚 Mobile” this morning! He got his Alligator 🐊 & Whale 🐳 Books as ordered! Thank You Ian for bringing smiles to so many kids in our @canyon_heights community! @elementarymaker @NVSD44 #NorthVan @CBCEarlyEdition pic.twitter.com/1cpqqVWiKN— Kulvir Mann (@BeingKulvir) May 1, 2020
Following consultations with staff and administrators about how to do the bookmobile effectively and safely, Mr. C hit the road Friday to deliver books and engage with students.
Canyon Heights parents or students are invited to peruse the school’s library collection, which can almost entirely be viewed online, at which point they can request up to three books by emailing Cunliffe with the titles of the books they’d like, the student’s full name and division, along with their home address. Books are delivered at a prearranged time each Friday, according to Cunliffe.
He said his favourite part of the new bookmobile so far is just helping to brighten the day of his students by reminding them about the power of reading and reigniting their connection to their elementary school.
“Libraries aren’t about books, they’re about people,” said Cunliffe. “They’re about making people feel connected and establishing and growing a sense of community. That’s really the most important part of my job.”
While there’s many requests for the illustrated children’s novel series Captain Underpants, Cunliffe also said he has observed that many students have been ordering books for delivery that he knows they’ve already read.
“A book you’ve read and loved is like an old friend, you can see them again and again – and I think a lot of people are finding comfort in that,” he said.
Cunliffe, who has been the librarian at Canyon Heights for seven years, fights back tears when talking about how lucky he feels to serve his school community at a time when he knows many families are struggling.
He’s appreciative of the support he’s received from families and students thrilled at the prospect of their librarian rolling by with a stack of books and banter, though he’s quick to point out the real heroes during the ongoing pandemic are the front-line and essential workers facing the virus head on.
“I want people to know we’re all in this together and it will get better,” he said.
A website has been launched with more information about the Canyon Heights bookmobile, he added.
On Friday, the first day of the bookmobile program, Mr. C said the trunk of his car was overflowing with books as he scanned through pages and pages of deliveries he planned on making.
“I’ve had some offers to use a friend’s pickup, so I may have to take them up if this continues to catch on. But what a great problem to have, right?”