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Is the 'Book Box' better than a block party?

Program builds more than avid readers: it builds communities.

Stewards of one of the Little Free Library’s newest stations in St. Albert have become some of the program’s biggest cheerleaders, saying that it builds more than avid readers: it builds communities.

“There is rarely a day that goes by that we don't see somebody out there at the library. It's amazing,” said Sheri Rempel, whose library location on Welland Crescent not only contains books but also uses books as a major motif for its construction.

She described its purpose as a way of connecting with the people on her street. The Rempels moved here from Slave Lake last year and wanted to establish the same ‘small town’ sense of community that they had always enjoyed. She explained that, when hosting one of these sites, the benefit of getting to know your neighbours is equal to trading books.

It helps that a lot of her neighbours are avid readers, just as she is.

“It's really cool to see them around a little library all talking: ‘What are you checking out today?’ It's been really great for us to get to know our neighbours that way.”

Another bonus to having a Little Free Library: curious readers get quick access to new books and new genres that they otherwise wouldn’t consider.

Before they built their library, the Rempels even put up a sign in their neighbourhood to ask for construction materials to be donated. They got everything they needed, and had already built up the interest before they opened the doors. They call it the "Book Box."

When it came time to launch their location, they sent out 60 invitations and held a front yard party. Many people came to take books and leave books, and spend a few minutes visiting at the same time. After all, friendships start with common interests, she said. She says that people keep coming back again and again.

“I just love this library. People come on bikes all the time with their little kids. We've got a group of ladies who drive by after work, they get out of their car, exchange their book and drive away and we see them two days later doing the same. We call them our groupies.”

Angie Dedrick, the city’s neighbourhood development co-ordinator, said that involving the neighbours is actually one of the keys to the success of each Little Free Library.

“We really encourage them to involve the community and creating it. So if you build it yourself, that's fine. But invite the community out to join you in celebrating your launch of it. Right. So that way the community takes ownership of it and will take care of it,” she said.

The program is now five years old in the city and there are 35 spots, with most located on public streets. She considers it to be a huge success and is thrilled to see how it continues to grow.

The city’s website offers a page of information, including a free guidebook and Dedrick’s contact information for people who want to establish their own new Little Free Library. She also hosts an orientation and information session every spring to help in both establishing new locations and promoting them collectively.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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