One of the most popular placemaking initiatives that the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network is involved with is Little Free Libraries (LFLs). Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been leading the GVPN’s Pocket Places Project, that has LFLs at its centre, since the early days of the organization. As Teale likes to say LFLs are a foundational placemaking component; people meet their neighbours at a local LFL, someone might suggest a bench or planter box to go near the LFL, next might come a road mural and before you know it placemaking has begun to happen in an organic and people-led way from the ‘seed’ of a LFL.
It just so happens that the LFL movement and the GVPN will both be celebrating in 2024. Next year will be the 15th anniversary of the building of the first LFL by Todd Bols and it will be GVPNs 10th birthday. As an indication of how much LFLs have become fixtures of our culture – globally in fact – let’s look at some books that feature LFLs or the LFL concept (as well as highlighting placemaking concepts).
First up is the wonderful kids’ book Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul with illustrations by John Parra. This book tells the story of Todd Bols and his friend Richard Brooks who began the LFL movement in 2009. Although it is about LFLs it is also emphasizes that being a hero is accessible to everyone and that no special superpowers are needed beyond kindness, the willingness to work hard and to believe in the strength of community.
This book could be read by young readers (say 5 and up) on their own or read aloud to younger children. The illustrations are simple, brightly coloured and full of fun little details (can you spot the bluebird on almost every page?). The book is available at the Greater Victoria Public Library and you can see the book trailer on YouTube.
Next up is Book Uncle and Me. This book doesn’t feature LFLs as we would recognize them from the Victoria context but the principle of Book Uncle’s library on the pavement in an unnamed Indian town “Books Free. Give one. Take one. Read-Read-Read” is surely the same as that of LFLs the world over. But perhaps more important than this motto are the underlying themes of the book – about caring for each other whether that means thinking twice before saying whatever comes into your mind to helping a neighbour carry a heavy package to their door; about the power that we can harness – even kids – when we work together and the importance of standing up for what is right and speaking out – even if you feel your knees knocking together and your throat going dry with nervousness.
Book Uncle’s pavement library is a sterling example of what we might call tactical urbanism. Non-permanent changes in the fabric of the neighbourhood that can be quickly assembled and disassembled and are not formally endorsed or sanctioned. In fact this ‘non-formal’ nature is integral to the crisis that drives the action in the book after Book Uncle is forced to remove his library because he doesn’t have a permit to be there.
But the kids in the novel, led by the plucky and strong-willed Yasmin, lead a movement among not just their classmates and friends but among the grown ups too, to convince those in power – candidates in the upcoming mayoral election – that Book Uncle does not require a permit since he is not selling anything – his books are free to anyone who wants one – and that furthermore he is a crucial and important part of their city’s charm and appeal.
The bright and jaunty writing is accompanied by simple, cheerful illustrations by Julia Swanney that capture little details of Indian life beautifully (the tiffin box in Yasmin’s hand on the cover, bananas hanging on a string at the fruit shop). This new edition of the book (the original was published in India in 2012) contains a discussion guide at the back that actually mentions LFLs and urges readers to learn more about the movement. Author Uma Krishnaswami lives in Victoria and you can learn more about her at https://www.umakrishnaswami.com/.
Lastly is Up for Grabs, a young reader (9-12 years) novel by local writer Michelle Mulder in which LFLs are a vital piece of the story and almost another character. The book is charming and the voices and interior dialogues of the two main kid characters, Frida and Hazeem, are authentic and funny but never cheesy or demeaning. Victoria readers will get a kick out of mentions of recognizable landmarks about town. The story moves along briskly and comes to a surprising but satisfying conclusion, even if it isn’t the windfall that some of us grown-ups might have been hoping would land in the lap of the book’s protagonist.
Michelle Mulder will officially launch Up for Grabs at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1040 Moss Street) on Saturday, May 20, 2023, from 3:00-5:00 pm. Mulder will read from the book and answer questions about the novel. In collaboration with the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network and in honour of the novel’s themes of hidden treasures and neighbourhood exploration the book’s launch also includes a Golden Ticket Scavenger Hunt. For this Scavenger Hunt, 500 bookmarks are being released into the 650+ little free libraries in Greater Victoria. Ten of these bookmarks will have attached to them “golden tickets” that entitle the bearer to one free copy of the book, Up for Grabs, to be claimed from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Gallery Shop during gallery hours any time before May 20th.
Guest Author Bio
Susan Martin. Longtime resident of #YYJ who delights in exploring every corner and cul de sac of our beautiful city. Thinks that walking is one of the best medicines in existence and tries to get a dose of it each day. Keenly interested in how our built environment affects the health of individuals, neighbourhoods and societies.
Follow Susan On: Twitter