Nestled along the Playter Estates – Danforth East York neighbourhood, a mini version of a painted house sits on a post, where residents and passersby stop to take a look at the free books inside.
East York resident, Lisa Robertson, uses the Little Free Library and was aware of it since 2018, before the COVID -19 pandemic and lockdown.
According to their website, Little Free Library (LFL) is a non-profit organization and free community initiative based in St. Paul, Minnesota. This initiative aims to strengthen neighbourhoods across Toronto, and other cities, to expand access to a wide array of free books for everyone.
For her, having this initiative as a staple is a wonderful asset to have in the community where neighbours can connect with readers.
“They can give and take, which hopefully the books they put in mean something to the reader, and to be able to pass it on to somebody else. It is almost like a little gift.”
She also says, Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald is one of her favourite books to take out from the Free Little Library collection.
Diana, a neighbour who lives in front of the Centennial College Story Arts campus in the East York neighbourhood, has a son who borrows books on a regular basis.
“It is the kids books and stories that he borrows. But even when he was a baby, we used to take out baby books.”
She heard of this neighbourhood initiative for about 15 years.
“You just pass by, and see a book to bring to your child to make them happy at home. We are happy to have it.” Diana says.
“He always stops and looks at what is there. It is not just parents, but also the children and it grows as your family and child grows,” she adds.
Conversations, questions surround Little Free Libraries
Jordan Hale used to specialize in map and data library systems at the University of Toronto (U of T) as an original cataloguer and reference specialist. She started to pay attention to the Little Free Library initiative after seeing her friend Jane Schmidt’s social media tweets.
Hale was eventually called on by Schmidt to participate in the early stages of this U of T and the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) research lead by her friend Jane Schmidt. Hale was later invited to contribute as co-author.
Hale noticed many of these Free Little Libraries on her commute to work, cycling through the Annex, Christie Pitts and Dufferin Grove Park.
According to a 2016 University of Toronto study, most of these Little Free Libraries are situated in well-educated and wealthy white neighbourhoods. Hale considers this a phenomenon and wonders who this initiative is really intended for.
“The year after the article was published, I got a job in Waterloo. I started to notice the spatial dynamics of the Little Free Libraries appearing in neighbourhoods with the better access to the public library system,”says the now City of Toronto senior taxonomy and metadata specialist.
The Little Free Library initiative website strives to provide twenty–four seven access to books, as well as to foster the sharing of diverse voices in books and representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), the LGBTQ community and more.