Let me introduce myself. I am a distributor of knowledge, a provider of entertainment, and a facilitator of community. You’ll find me standing around in all weather, ready to get in the neighbours’ good books. Perhaps you think I sound self-absorbed but I am a Little Free Library. In case you would like to make your own library, I will tell you my story.
In my former life, I was a Times Colonist (TC) Newspaper box. You’ve probably seen me or my siblings around town – those blue boxes that you put coins into for your daily dose of information. Life was pretty interesting when I had that job. I had visitors every day and there was always something new to read about. I was getting a little worn down though. My window was badly scratched and patches of rust were marring my once-shiny paint. I could see the writing on the wall – it was time to retire.
As with lots of retired folks, I was not ready for the scrap yard. I needed a new gig. That’s where the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network came into play. Through the Pocket Places Project, led by Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, I found a new home! I can tell you, I was a bit nervous when I met my new keepers (Barb and Bjarne), or perhaps I should say, my librarians. The first thing they did was hoist me onto a cart, tie me up, and haul me home by bicycle! That was certainly a change for me and I wondered what else was in store. It turns out that the answer was plenty!
Getting rid of my decals was tough! After that many years, I was quite attached to them. A heat gun helped soften the glue, allowing the letters to peel off easily with not too much glue left behind. However, three large local photos were a different story. These decals were a different kind of plastic which the heat gun tended to melt before entirely softening the glue. It worked best to heat things just a bit then peel off the image, but that left a thick layer of adhesive stuck to me. Various solvents were tried with minimal success. Finally, Barb sprinkled flour on to reduce the stickiness, allowing her to scrape and scrub the whole mess off. Several hours later, we had two decals off, one to go. Upon further thought, it was decided that the third decal could be painted over, allowing me to retain a piece of my history in the form of an outline of the lovely Legislature.
My door originally opened from the top, with strong springs that ensured I wasn’t accidentally left open. My librarians wanted a side-opening door and for folks to have time to browse. The long pin that the door pivoted on was punched out to remove the door and springs. To make new hinges on the side, the pin could have been re-used but Bjarne is very fussy about avoiding rust. Fortunately, my librarians are sailors and had some left-over stainless steel rods (they used to be mast rigging). Holes were drilled into me for the new pins to go through and washers welded onto the pins stopped them from slipping through. For the boaters in the crowd, the arrangement resembles a pintle and gudgeon on a rudder, but don’t worry if that sounds like a foreign language to you.
A now unnecessary metal bracket inside was cut out with an angle grinder. It did a quick job but the flying sparks were rather disconcerting! The librarians then glued rubber strips onto the door frame to provide some cushioning and a strap to prevent the door from swinging back too far. For a handle and latch a curtain ring (now painted red) and a small metal tongue bolted onto the door did the trick. You could say it was an open and shut case.
As I mentioned, my window was in pretty rough shape. My librarians decided to rehabilitate me with some plastic polish. They had some Novus 2 kicking around. Novus 3, for deeper scratches, would have been better but they wanted to use materials at hand whenever possible. While not anywhere near perfect, it was, clearly, an improvement.
Removing the small bolts securing the window made both the plexiglass polishing and the painting of the door easier. In the process, they also removed the extra piece of plexiglass that used to hold a newspaper on display. When the window was reassembled, a little butyl tape went around each bolt to decrease the chance of water leaking in (as boaters, these two are picky about which side of things the water is on).
Preparation and Painting
To prepare my surface for painting, the rust patches were ground out with an electric sander and, for some of the deeper spots, an angle grinder. Then all of the surfaces were roughed up by more sanding and cleaned off with alcohol. The colours were chosen from left-over paints. What a difference a coat of paint makes!
After I was nicely coated all over, the librarians thought I needed a little pizazz so they dug out a stencil from a past project. Although the idea of using already-available materials was good from an environmental and cost perspective, it became apparent that some paints were better suited to this job than others. Based on the amount of sailor words used for each type of paint, I would recommend spray-paint if using a stencil. Nonetheless, some careful cleaning up of the blurred edges resulted in a nice decorative flourish.
A square of arborite was glued to the existing wire rack to make a bottom shelf. A top shelf of painted plywood is now held up by some wood pieces that are glued to my walls. The plywood does not come all the way out to my window so it is easier to see the books on the bottom shelf. The spacing is just enough to fit a regular-sized paperback. However, some paperbacks are a little taller these days so it might have been better to make the shelf a bit lower.
Keeping the Bugs Out
Holes were either sealed, or mesh was used where a hole was for drainage and ventilation. We only want bookworms, not insects, crawling around inside me!
Topping Things Off
Although my librarians joked about the potential profit of leaving the coin box on, it didn’t quite align with the idea of a free library. They removed a few bolts to relieve me of a rather heavy weight on my head and made short work of the remaining piece of metal with the angle grinder (that angle grinder certainly had a workout during my rehabilitation). The goal was to have a flat surface on my top so people could set things down while they were browsing.
One could argue that adding a roof was, well, over the top, but it does add a little flair and keeps that flat surface drier. Besides, it used up some old fence boards. The boards were screwed together, one overlapping the next and then painted. Some more wood bits were screwed onto my top for the roof to rest on and the roof was glued and screwed to them.
One feature I am pleased about is the fact that folks can browse even after sunset. My librarians had some solar-powered garden lights that were not being used that were a great size for lighting up my interior. The solar panel was attached to the roof, and the wire was run through an already existing hole. A sensor triggers the light to come on when it gets dark.
The only things that needed to be purchased were one patio stone, four cinder blocks and concrete mix. The patio stone was laid into the levelled ground with two layers of cinder blocks on top of that. A divot was drilled into the patio stones to hold a metal bar which projected into the opening in the cinder blocks. The cinderblocks were then filled with concrete and some stones from the yard. A layer of scrap 2x4s was placed on top with metal pins (more of that rigging material) that poked down into the wet cement. This approach secured the blocks to the foundation and the lumber to the blocks.
All of this stable base wouldn’t do any good if I wasn’t firmly attached to it so the librarians bolted some more scrap lumber (1×6) to me and to the layer of 2x4s I was sitting on. If you don’t mind most of your customers needing to bend over, the cinderblocks could be skipped.
The Grand Opening
The big day arrived – it was time for the grand opening of the DeCosta Place Library! Folks came by to add a few books, chat with their neighbours and enjoy cookies. Although I was highly admired, one fellow was a little puzzled by the “DeCosta Nada” sign. Apparently, not everyone is as fond of puns as my librarians. All I have to say to that is, come visit me anytime – I have an open-door policy.
By Barb Peck