Bringing reading closer to home

By JT McVeigh, The Enterprise-Bulletin

COLLINGWOOD — It’s amazing what pops up in the summer.

A life-long lover of books and libraries, former school teacher Susan Mei was travelling out west to visit her son when she spotted her first Little Free Library, a tiny lending library on someone’s front lawn.

A couple of years later, she spotted more when she visited the East Coast and a seed was planted.

It took a little while, but with the expertise of her partner, Michael Calvert, a small, blue library now welcomes readers to a quiet street in Collingwood.

“I had seen my first little library when I was out west visiting my son. That was about five years ago. And then, last summer, I saw all kinds of them in little towns in Nova Scotia,” said Mei. “I just think that it is a great way for people to connect.”

It was installed this summer, and Mei has been delighted with the response from her neighbours.

“I donated the books just to start it off, because I have more books than I know what to do with. I have notice that the books have done a total cycle. Hardly any of those books were the ones I donated,” Mei said. “It’s awesome that people are using it the way it is supposed to be and enjoying it.”

Mei believes if books are available, people will gravitate to them, and although her little lending library helps bring titles to people, she still believes libraries hold an important place in any community.

“No matter where I am on the planet, I also look for the local library,” said Mei.

She finds some people aren’t aware of what libraries have to offer. They are much more a community centre now, she said, where the library has embraced technology and even offers workshops to help people to get up to speed with computers and all things digital.

She identifies cities like Toronto, where libraries are the place where new Canadians go to learn the language even by checking out a basic elementary book.

It is still the tactile experience Mei likes about a book.

Now the operator one of five little lending libraries in Collingwood, Mei likes that her library is drawing neighbours to share her love of reading.

“It’s kind of funny because when we put it up, at first people would be saying to me, ‘I hope that I am not bothering you,’ and I would tell them that that was the point, but I guess it just takes a little bit of time for people to get used to it,” said Mei.

The idea of the Little Free Library has become somewhat of a global phenomenon in the past few years.

Started in a small town in Wisconsin by a son wanting to pay homage to his mother, who was a teacher, he built a small schoolhouse-shaped library for the front of his house.

The idea was picked up as a social enterprise, and now Little Free Libraries are throughout North American, Europe and Asia.

The concept has become a non-profit organization the founders hopes inspires a love of reading, builds community and sparks creativity by fostering neighbourhood book exchanges around the world.

Hosting the library as already created surprises, including the appearance of a lost book.

“The other day, I was having a conversation and we were talking about Fifteen Dogs, the book that won Canada Reads, and she asked if I had read it. I said, ‘No, but I will get it off of you once you are finished reading it.’ But then I asked if she had read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. She hadn’t, and the copy I had has long since disappeared, but later, when I was walking back, I checked my library and there was the book. What are the chances? The words just came out of my mouth and the book landed in that box,” Mei said with a laugh.


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