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A big idea for a little library

Janet Clarke has opened Whitehorse's newest and littlest library right on her front lawn. Anyone is welcome to visit, take a book or leave a book. "There's something about books that people are excited about.

Janet Clarke has opened Whitehorse’s newest and littlest library right on her front lawn.

Anyone is welcome to visit, take a book or leave a book.

“There’s something about books that people are excited about. Which is interesting in this day and age, you know?” said Clarke.

Clarke is a former public librarian and a current teacher and librarian at Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

She got the idea from a movement of little free libraries that started in the United States.

American Todd Bol built the first little free library in honour of his mother, a former teacher and book lover.

Now the tiny libraries have spread all around the world.

A Google map documents the locations of hundreds of miniature libraries, mostly in the United States, but also in faraway places like Haiti, Ghana and Pakistan. Clarke’s library has not yet been added to the map.

Whitehorse’s little library is the 2,849th to be registered with, said Clarke.

That puts the movement well over its goal of building more libraries than Andrew Carnegie, who funded the construction of 2,509 libraries around the world between 1883 and 1929.

Clarke first heard about the project through a news clipping sent to her by her mother. She knew right away that she wanted her own little library, she said.

People are encouraged to be creative about what materials they use for their library, and what they want it to look like.

Some library stewards have used re-purposed newspaper boxes or British telephone booths.

The movement’s website features a photo gallery showcasing a variety of designs.

People can also download plans to build their own, or purchase ready-made little libraries on the site.

Clarke used plans from the website, which she handed off to her “neighbours and champions of literacy” Louie Kedziora and Dave Kedziora, with help from their friend Doug Wheeler.

Dave, the elder Kedziora, works in construction and found recycled materials to use for the library.

Clarke stocked it with donated books as well as some from her own collection. The library can hold approximately 60 books on its shelves.

Clarke estimates that there are about 50 to 60 books currently in circulation at the little library, covering fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature. And people keep adding more.

“I don’t think I’m going to have any shortage of books to fill it up with,” said Clarke.

The library officially opened on Sept. 16.

The mission of the movement is not only to promote literacy, but also to foster community. Already, it is serving that purpose, said Clarke. She often finds people checking out the library as she comes and goes from the house.

“It’s so neat. I’ll go up and introduce myself, and it turns out they live right around the corner.

“One hundred per cent of the people love the idea. People are sort of saying, ‘Oh you’d better watch out for vandalism,’ but so far it’s all been great.”

In the first few days, when people were borrowing books faster than they were returning them, Clarke turned to her own bookshelf to keep the library stocked.

A few days later, a neighbour stopped by to return some photographs of Clarke and her husband from 1990 that he had found between the pages of one of the books.

At the opening, Clarke was pleased to see two moms sit down to read to their kids right on her front lawn, she said.

“I think it is a nice setting for people to grab a book and then, ‘Oh you know, maybe we don’t need to go all the way home with this, maybe we’ll sit here and just enjoy it.’”

One of the great things about a little library is the element of surprise, said Clarke.

“I like when I see people who come upon it unexpectedly. Like, ‘Oh, what’s that on their front lawn?’ And then they walk over and you can see their faces kind of light up. ‘Oh wow, that’s a great idea!’”

The library is located at 18 Alsek Road.

“Everyone is welcome,” said Clarke. “You don’t need to live in my corner of Riverdale, or even in Riverdale. Come on down from Porter Creek and take a look, and maybe you’ll be inspired to build your own. And I can give you pointers on it.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at