Sparking reading interest in children: Free Little Library offers new way to get books

Jodi Schellenberg
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In order to help keep children reading, one Prince Albert woman has brought an amazing initiative to the city.

Pam Taylor, a literacy partnership facilitator in Prince Albert and northern communities, started a Free Little Library outside her home in the east flats.

Pam Taylor, a literacy partnership facilitator in Prince Albert and northern communities, has started up a Free Little Library outside her home in the east flats.

The idea for Free Little Libraries was started in 2009 by a man in Wisconsin who created one in honour of his mother. Taylor said the idea has now spread around the world and there are Free Little Libraries on every continent.

After hearing about the libraries, she thought it was a great idea.

“It is kind of the philosophy of (pennies),” Taylor said. “They used to have the little bins that said, ‘Need a penny, take a penny, have a penny, leave a penny.’

“It is the same philosophy,” she added. “If you want a book, take a book, have a book, leave a book.”

People have asked her, “What if they keep cleaning you out and don’t replace them?”

“It is free books,” she said. “That’s actually kind of the point. It is not candy -- it is not aiding obesity or anything like that.”

She has already spread the idea to some of the northern communities she works in.

“I work up north and there is a severe lack of reading materials for the youth and anyone really,” Taylor said. “As a literary specialist, I see what that does to people and what they can do in school and how they can fit into society later.”

Taylor helped start up two in Cumberland House and another community is hoping to put up some as well.

“The ones in Cumberland House are in businesses, so they are inside because you are dealing with severe weather,” she said. “Other communities want to try to free standing ones and have their industrial arts students build them. Then there is ownership and these little book houses will be around town in these little communities that don’t have any access (to reading material).”

The library Taylor has was a “great little recycling project.” She took an old garbage can, a post from Home Hardware and an old tin breadbox. After giving it a coat of spray paint and putting it together, it was a great place to store the books out of the weather.

“It is going to be a permanent structure,” Taylor said. “It did survive the rain (Monday) night.”

One of the concerns by people in the community was whether or not the books would be safe in extreme weather.

“I did water proof the top,” Taylor said. “A very little bit of water did get in there but it didn’t touch the books. It was just around the edges of the door.”

Since a little bit of water did get in, she is looking at ways to better waterproof the door of the library box.

The Free Little Library has attracted attention from all sorts of different people.

“It sparks interest in a completely different way,” Taylor said. “I’ve seen the rough and tough boys, biking on their BMXs all of a sudden stop and call their other little friends over.

“I was watching them (from inside my house) and of course I couldn’t hear what they were saying but they were passing around this one book,” she added. “I could tell it was one of the Tom Clancy books -- so it was an older read. This one boy got really excited all of a sudden. He was telling his friends something and decided he wanted that book.”

Another time a boy in about Grade 6 was constantly showing the library off to his friends when they would be visiting.

“He didn’t realize that I was standing on my stoop because I just came home and was telling his friends, ‘Isn’t this a stupid idea? It’s a stupid idea.” I was grinning because I thought, ‘This is why you showed all your friends every day after school since I put it out there,’” Taylor laughed. “Then he sees me and says, ‘Are you going to put out new books? I’ve read all the ones you’ve already put out.’”

Although most people find the idea interesting and unique, Taylor said she has overheard the occasional person who has said kids will just keep stealing the books and she will give up on it.

“You know, some people will have that opinion but a lot don’t. A lot think it is very interesting,” Taylor said. “It is not going to please everyone but it is not going to hurt anyone and it is starting conversations about reading.

“It is just sparking the love of reading again,” she added. “Literacy is the ability to be understood and to understand. If you can’t do those things, you can’t really be a part of society.”

Since a lot of people have liked the idea, Taylor has passed the idea on to others too. She recently made a second library and gave it to her friend who lives in the west flats.

“She gets cleaned out regularly too,” she said. “Sometimes she teaches the kids to just take one at a time to be fair, because there is a higher child population there.”

She would like to see more Free Little Libraries pop up in Prince Albert and other communities, maybe even with the help of high school industrial arts students who could build libraries during class.

Taylor sometimes has a hard time keeping up with the books, but she thinks that is a great problem to have.

“I had to go yard saling because I am running out of books,” she laughed.

She encourages people to donate books if they come across a free library in their community. A sticker is put on the cover of each book with the Free Little Library motto so parents understand the children are not stealing books.

Right now, Taylor is working with the Ministry of Education on a project about summer reading loss.

“The achievement gap between high-medium economic groups and low, almost 80 per cent of that is contributed to what happens or doesn’t happen during the summer,” Taylor said. “This summer, I am going to make sure my little library is never empty because one of the best ways to intervene in that is just to provide the written material that is high interest and self-selected.”

Organizations: Free Little Libraries, Cumberland House, Ministry of Education

Geographic location: Prince Albert, Wisconsin

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