When the pandemic struck, and libraries had to close their doors – residents in neighbourhoods across the North Shore found a new way to share their favourite tales.
They created their own, extremely cute, little libraries. Building colourful wooden hutches on their streets and filling them with all sorts of books for anyone and everyone to borrow or take and replace at a later date.
Residents who’ve come across these special little libraries in their neighbourhood may know firsthand that there’s more to it than just borrowing a book.
The trend has been around for a few years now and was sparked by United Way as part of the non-profit organization’s Hi Neighbour Initiative, which was designed to strengthen community connections, create resilience, and help to reduce social isolation.
“One of the benefits is obviously sharing books, but, more importantly, it's about creating those vital connections between neighbours,” says Michael McKnight, president and chief executive of United Way of the Lower Mainland.
The growth in little libraries has been seen across Metro Vancouver during the past year as COVID-19 forced the closure of many facilities, and community members began to think outside the box on ways they could stay connected.
More than 80 little libraries now exist on the North Shore.
With so many popping up, United Way launched the North Vancouver Little Library Map. The community-sourced map leads the way to 81 little libraries with an aim to further inspire those vital community connections.
“What we've really found out is that the value of them, in terms of connecting neighbours and building a sense of community, has really been emphasized by the increased amount of social isolation that COVID has brought to our communities,” McKnight said, adding that social isolation was increasingly being recognized as a social and health risk which Little Libraries was helping to break down in neighbourhoods.
Little libraries help spark conversations
McKnight, who’s a North Vancouver resident, knows firsthand the joy a little library can bring after setting one up outside his own home.
“People that I had never met in my neighbourhood stopped because of the little library, but not so much to get a book, but just to chat … to chat with me or chat with other people who are walking by,” he said.
“We may have lived six, seven doors a part but had never met and I've been there 17 years. It becomes a ‘bump-in place’ you can stop and chat with neighbours and get to know each other.”
And, avid readers are enjoying the books in the libraries and donating a lot too.
“Often, I see cars stop and somebody bring out a bag and put as many books that will fit into the little library,” McKnight said. “We're often taking books out to recycle them a little bit so new stock is in there, but it's a really active community in keeping that little library stocked and well maintained.”
Every Little Library has its own character
Across the North Shore, some little libraries are thematically different. For instance, the one at Fifth and Chesterfield adds a new book by Indigenous authors each Wednesday. Some others are children’s books only. For those who enjoy art, some even offer craft supplies. And for the green thumbs, there are a few little libraries with plant seeds, too.
On the map, residents may also find some of the decommissioned North Shore News boxes that have been transformed into little libraries. There are nine across North Vancouver that have been revamped for their cute new purpose.
“Every one of them [little libraries] has a different character, that often is an expression of the individual or family who put it up,” McKnight said. “We've seen very creative ones that have different themes. So, it's a fun way for people to be part of their community as well.”
Crystal Cahil, a Seymour Heights resident, created a little library in January 2021 and says it’s inspired her and her family to get out and explore other little libraries around North Vancouver as well.
"We especially love ‘pollinating’ other little libraries with books, which provided us with a chance to meet new people and explore more neighbourhoods in our community,” she said.
McKnight added that the new map is a great way to keep neighbours connected safely.
“We're hoping community members will keep adding to this resource,” he said.
Community members who wish to contribute to the map can share their knowledge with the United Way's Lonsdale Community Builder, Sarah, at email@example.com or join the North Van Little Libraries Facebook Group.
Check out the map
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.