There's a new attraction at Mill Lake Park: a little library contained within an old newspaper box. Books are free to take with no return deadlines, and borrowers are encouraged to leave their own books behind to pass along to others.
The Little Free Library concept is a global movement with over 10,000 such libraries to date.
"I am proud that Abbotsford is one of the cities that's going to have one," said mayor Bruce Banman at the unveiling of the new library at Mill Lake on Thursday. "They promote literacy and a love of reading. They promote a sense of community."
The global concept was originally started by a Rotarian, Banman pointed out. And it is the local Rotary Club of Abbotsford-Sumas that has spearheaded installing such little libraries all over the city's parks.
"We're a service club, and literacy is important to our club," said Bente Hansen, chair of the club's literacy committee. "One of our main criteria is to support families and children around Abbotsford."
Other than at Mill Lake, there are now little libraries at Dave Kandal Park and Saddle Park. More are under development. The Rotary Club is installing the structures – made of old Abbotsford News and Vancouver Sun boxes – beside the playgrounds that the club installed a few years ago.
"When word got out about what we were doing…What's amazing is the support that has come from all over the Valley," said Hansen.
The club partnered with the City of Abbotsford to make it happen.
It also partnered, crucially, with The Book Man. The local bookstore donated 1,000 books to stock the little free libraries and replenish supply when it dwindles, an expected result.
One lingering question is what happens if the libraries are vandalized. Some people gathered at the grand opening quietly expressed concern about the quality of the literature that is brought in. The initial stock contains books aimed at ages 6–10, but that is expected to diversify quickly as people bring their own books back.
"That's the first question most people ask, 'what about vandalism?'" said Hansen.
Hansen said that the Rotary club will be continually refuelling the libraries, and in so doing will be checking on what's in stock. One fact that should deter some would-be vandals, added Hansen, is that the libraries are in highly visible locations.
She admitted that the club didn't know how much work would be required in maintaining the libraries. But if the playground at Mill Lake is any indication, the 10 other playgrounds that the club installed in city parks are in excellent shape.
Three classrooms from nearby Godson Elementary came over to the grand opening on March 13. Kids were curious about the new box and eager to check it out, but no one dared to borrow a book yet. One girl explained the way that it worked was that you had to put a book back in order to take one out.