Old newsboxes get new life as little libraries

Here’s the story of a creaky little crew, once bound for the scrap heap, now ready for something new!

Some might call them square, but for decades these metal boxes sat on street corners all over the North Shore, ready to spring open and offer up the news of the day. But over the years those boxes got beaten up, broken down and just plain rusty.

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“The future is in plastic,” the boss man said, ordering the metal North Shore News boxes swapped out, one by one, to be replaced by plastic models that lasted longer, needed less maintenance.

“What should we do with the old boxes?” the workers asked, hearing the rusty wails of the sad sheet metal.

“Take ’em to the dump!” came the cold reply.

But that couldn’t be the end of it. There had to be something they could do to save the boxes. Maybe if they fixed them up a bit, they could find those steel sentinels somewhere new to stand.

And so they scrubbed and sanded, cleaned and cleared. Then they sent the word out.

Wanted: Happy homes for old North Shore News newspaper boxes. Perfect for neighbourhood little libraries. Books included! Pick ’em up, paint ’em up, fill ’em up, and then share the love with the little readers in your life.

But would anybody bite? Would anyone want a creaky old box, worn down from years of being ink-stained and left in the rain?

Ding. A hit! “I’ll take one!” the nice lady said.

Ding. Another hit! And another! Within a day there were dozens of requests, more requests than boxes. They were going back out into the world, ready to be repurposed, refreshed, refilled – the perfect perch to place little literary treasures to be discovered by little curious hands.

“Goodbye friends!” the boxes called out to each other as their new families bungeed them into the back of their Subaru wagons and Tacoma trucks. “Let’s show them our mettle. And remember, it’s what’s inside that counts!”

• • •

Deep Cove’s Michelle King was one of those who answered the call and picked up an old newspaper box. She led a group of volunteers, all parents from Sherwood Park Elementary, who repainted it to its original red and stocked it full of books, many kindly supplied by the North Vancouver District Public Library.

For added fun, they put a chalkboard on the back for kids to share their news of the day.

“The best measurement of the little library box’s success is the flow of books moving through,” says King, who threw a block party to introduce the neighbourhood to the new library. “We check on it regularly and there are new books being left all the time. It’s rewarding knowing that it’s being used and enjoyed.”

The little library has even encouraged neighbourhood kids – led by King’s son Grayson Carroll, age 8, and his next-door neighbour Sam Bailey, age 9 – to create a new book club.

“It is wonderful to see the kids come together over their love of books and reading,” said King. “It fosters a sharing of ideas. I hope the library box provides access to books that might inspire new readers or maybe remind others how enjoyable it is to disconnect from their devices and read.”

So far there are nine North Shore News little libraries, a project spearheaded by photographer Mike Wakefield and editor Layne Christensen, spread across North Van and West Van, with more to come as more metal boxes serve up their final issues. If you see an old metal newspaper box in an interesting spot, take a look inside.

You might find a newspaper. Or you might find something new. Either way, you’re in for a good read. ◆

This story was included in our 50th Anniversary Issue, published Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Click here for more stories from this special edition of the North Shore News

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