The first time I saw a mini-library, I was confused. Here was a little house, with a shelf of books on a street, nowhere. No instructions were listed on the glass door to this little house and, being unobtrusive, I let it be. The next time I saw one I was with a friend (who knows everything about everything) who explained what it was. This time, I stopped and had a look through the books. I found a book that interested me and I took it. I felt a little guilty, as I had nothing to replace it with, but soon learned I could contribute anytime.
Mini-libraries are popping up more frequently around the Lower Mainland. Recently, Shagun Bhanot was featured in the Burnaby Now when she and another woman partnered to bring four new mini-libraries to a variety of areas in Burnaby.
Curious about the process and how it works, I approached Shagun with follow up questions:
What prompted you to start the mini-libraries project?
The core of the project was to bring community together through reading, possessing, exchanging and recycling books. The idea behind setting miniature public libraries was to have access to books anytime anywhere without the deadline to return or renew them. This book exchange initiative wanted to increase connections between people living in a housing complex or in a particular neighbourhood. We also wanted to create some common meeting points for people where they could meet up and nurture friendships through common interest in books and felt that these mini structures could be a point of reference as a common hangout or meeting place. Another thought that prompted this project was, to encourage the component of education by making children “return to books” in today’s world of technology and inculcate the habit of sharing.
Have you been monitoring the libraries since their inception?
Yes, we have been doing that and it is doing pretty well. We are surprised how many people have been approaching us with a donation of books or buying structures to build mini libraries in their own neighbourhood.
What surprised you the most about this project?
What surprised me was the amount of people who became involved in the project, as well as enthusiasm of the community partners. This project was truly inclusive.
How long did this project take from idea to completion?
It took us approximately six months from start to finish.
What was the biggest struggle in this project?
Complying with the City Bylaws was a challenge. The City of Burnaby was very supportive and brainstormed with us as to locations, as well as amendments to Zoning and Sign Bylaws to distinguish mini-libraries from other structures. They also introduced regulations specific to this for any future mini libraries.
Finding raw materials for the libraries and finding volunteers to build and install these was another challenge we had to overcome. We approached various community partners and were fortunate to collaborate with Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion and Artists helping Artists whose major support helped our project see the light of day.
Where would you recommend others to start if they’re looking at making a similar project in their own community?
Folks should collaborate with community partners as well as the Public library and the City. Most important, however, are the people of the community as it is they who would eventually be using the libraries and keep the project running successfully.
Can you tell me about the funding process?
We applied for funding through Vancouver Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants Project and were supported by Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table and Burnaby Neighborhood House in making an application and getting it approved.
What do you have planned next?
The next is to install another library at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus in Burnaby to give people access to more books, as there is no public library on campus. We also plan to monitor the libraries and maintain the continuum.
If building a mini-library is a New Year’s resolution for you, you may want to visit the ‘Mini-Library Burnaby’ Facebook page. Alternatively, the Surrey Libraries will share with you how to bring a mini library to the Surrey communities in their January 20th presentation.