Paula Carey’s little notebooks fill up with messages from neighbours and tourists in the heavily used lending library on King George Terrace.

Little lending libraries build community across Greater Victoria

Books are not going out of fashion says Oak Bay little library curator

The tiny home atop a post at the foot of the hill on King George Terrace is the only registered Free Little Library in Oak Bay. Residents in the know, though, use shelves of all shapes and sizes dotted among various neighbourhoods. Spotted among homes on Roslyn, Bing and Clive some are discreet, others a work of art.

“I lead a walking group out of Monterey and we come across these often,” says resident Gerhard Handler. “Not everybody knows about them. I’m sure we’ve introduced a few people.”

He and wife Jo Handler go through a lot of books, picking them up at Monterey centre rummage sales and perusing their local micro library.

“It’s a personal touch that makes a neighbourhood a neighbourhood,” says Gerhard.

“I do a lot of little walks and found this one,” says his wife Jo of their Dalhousie neighbourhood library. “When they have children’s books I get them for my grandchildren. I find some authors here I know that I like, and a lot of authors I don’t know that I have to explore.”

Saanich resident Teale Phelps Bondaroff, whose card hails him as a research adventurer with The Idea Tree Consulting, is among those attempting to map the lending libraries that make up another literacy system across Greater Victoria. While adding some titles to the King George Terrace library, Phelps Bondaroff came across Oak Bay resident Mark Rossi penning a short message to Paula Carey, curator for the two-year-old book exchange. In the little spiral notebook inside the small library he lets her know he’s restocked the shelves a bit. Not with just anything but a pair of the Arthur Conan Doyle tomes of Sherlock Holmes. He re-read it himself many times, and voiced intrigue over how long the detective tales would take to fly off the shelf.

“I’ve been using this for well over a year now,” the neighbour says of the little library built in the exact replica of the home behind it. “If you take a book you’re obligated to read it you know,” he adds with a chuckle.

Rossi and Phelps Bondaroff launch into a discussion over the character Holmes, highlighting the exact reason Phelps Bondaroff recently launched a library in his neighbourhood’s Rutledge Park. There are many condo-dwellers who don’t even know their neighbours, he says.

“It’s an excuse for everyone to get together.”

He cycles from home to work in Oak Bay throughout the school year passing small book exchanges along the way. Some he missed entirely until starting the mapping process. “You can’t enjoy those things if you don’t know about them,” Phelps Bondaroff says.

The project updates a Victoria Placemaking Network map started last summer about the small book exchanges in the region. This summer Idea Tree Consulting took on the task of updating that work. During the mapping, Phelps Bondaroof says he’s found Fernwood has the most book boxes. there they fill nooks and crannies among boulevard gardens and folk art.

“It’s a lightning rod for community; once you start building things like this more spring up,” he says, suggesting a tool or toy library could appear next. “Libraries are an amazing nexus.”

Carey, who calls herself the steward of her little library on King George Terrace – because “librarians curate” – admits to a little sorting. “When I go on holidays I have to get a steward.” She refills the shelves, occasionally removes books that just don’t fit the vibe, and figures the Sherlock Holmes tomes will move fast. This is a popular library for “lots of non-fiction and great fiction” she says.

“Each library has it’s own flavour depending on who walks by. This library has a lot of traffic,” she says. “I figure about 300 books per month go through here.”

Her little notebooks fill with notes of “thank you” and “great idea” signed by visitors near and far.

“We are an unofficial tour stop for the hop-on hop-off tour buses,” she says with a laugh. “It is placemaking.”

It’s registered on the littlefreelibrary.org and is among the few you’ll find registered at littlefreelibrary.org, while the rest in Oak Bay remain unregistered, and under the domain of each individual neighbourhood.

“It’s the greatest social experiment,” Carey says of her library. People will line up respectfully if someone else is perusing the selection.

“Runners, they’ll stop and find something and hide it behind the rock to get on the way back,” she says with a laugh, gesturing to a large boulder in her landscaping.

She added a little sign for those who stumble upon it – explaining there isn’t a take one leave one policy – take a book now, leave one when you can.

In the two years since she built it, Carey has received little notes, cards and even chocolates from a neighbour. The senior gentleman and his dog walked by regularly and thanked her for the impact the little library has on his life, highlighting the “beautiful human interactions” created by the small structure.

“Believe me, books are not going out of fashion,” Carey says. “People still love their books; children still love their books.”

Get your neighbourhood book shelf on the map. Tweet details and snap of your local little lending library to @IdeasOnTrees or email hello@theideatree.ca to get on the community map. Visit victoriaplacemaking.ca to find the little free library project.