Kitchener-Waterloo

Kitchener's Little Free Diverse Library project searches for 11th and final host home

Kitchener's Little Free Diverse Library project is looking for one more host home to complete its Ward 8 network.

Expanding the project to businesses, schools is 'the dream,' says 1 host

Lenah Thibeh restocks her Little Free Diverse Library for the third time since she installed it three weeks ago. It's been wildly popular and she says she couldn't be more thrilled. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Kitchener's Little Free Diverse Library project is looking for one more host home to complete its Ward 8 network. 

Over the last few weeks, Dinah Murdoch and her team of volunteers have installed eight along the streets of Victoria Hills, Forest Hills and Meinzinger Park; and one each at the Paulander and Victoria Hills community centres. 

"We have one library left. We're holding out for somewhere around Hazelglen Drive, in that area — so Victoria and Westmount area," said Murdoch. "So, get in touch."

The Ward 8 project was paid for, in part, by a City of Kitchener neighbourhood matching grant. Murdoch and her team got $5,500, which they then matched with community donations in the form of lumber, volunteer hours — and of course, books. 

The books include children's, young adult, non-fiction and fiction. The only real rule is they must be written by Black, Indigenous and other authors of colour. 

Murdoch, who is an early literacy teacher at one of the elementary schools in the ward, says she nominated Ward 8 because it is one of the region's most culturally diverse, but was lacking in little free libraries. 

Dinah Murdoch installs the finishing touches on the Little Free Diverse Library at the Paulander Community Centre. Murdoch has been leading the effort in Kitchener-Waterloo, and was inspired by a similar effort in the U.S. that was started by Sarah Kamya. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Though the project is only funded for libraries in Ward 8, that didn't stop Lena Thibeh from contacting Murdoch and sourcing the supplies for one on the corner of her front lawn on Courtland Road E. 

It's been so popular, Thibeh can barely keep it stocked. 

"I installed it three weeks ago now, and I've had to refill it — this is my third refill, today," said Thibeh. "I just haven't been able to keep up with it."

Thibeh said it's projects like these that help build bridges in the community between immigrants, like her parents — who are Afro-Palestinian — and those living in the neighbourhoods in which they're making their new homes. 

"Growing up, and even now, hearing and seeing the experiences of my parents, in terms of racism — my mom wears the hijab, my dad is a Black man — and then going through it myself, and now being a mom ... [I ask] how do we go from these negative experiences and shift the narrative to a more hopeful one?"

Kitchener's Little Free Diverse Library project is almost complete. In this story, produced by CBC K-W's Jackie Sharkey, hear from the people behind the project, hosts of the little libraries - and those who love having them in their neighbourhoods. 6:15

Shifting hearts and narratives

The best way to do that, said Thibeh, is education.

"Making education fun, making education interactive, and a great way to do that is through these Free Little Diverse Libraries.

"I think that has the opportunity to really shift hearts and ultimately shift the narrative in people's minds."

That's something Melissa Mortimer is noticing in herself, recently. 

She grew up in Ward 8 and has lived within its bounds pretty much her entire life. 

"This area has changed quite a bit. It is so diverse now — when I grew up, it wasn't, and now it's multicultural."

Melissa Mortimer has spent most of her childhood and adult life in Ward 8, and has seen it grow and diversify. She says the new Little Free Diverse Libraries in her neighbourhood open her mind and perspective. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

She said it's a great change, so when she stumbled upon one of the Little Free Diverse Libraries, she was thrilled to find books by authors she'd never heard of before, because they expose her to new perspectives. 

"I never felt that I was racist at all, and then I realized recently, through things that I do, maybe I am perpetuating systemic racism, which has opened my eyes and changed who I am greatly, and made me more thoughtful about the things that I do and the things that I say and how it's affecting other people."

"And I don't know if that's because I'm reading different things, or because I'm surrounded by different people or because I'm a mom now, but I'm thankful for it."

A friendly face in the neighbourhood

Signalling to the neighbourhood that she and her family are allies, and that their home is a safe space, was one of the reasons Sarah Laferriere signed up to host a Little Free Diverse Library on her front lawn. 

She and her husband have ongoing conversations with their three kids about the diversity of their neighbourhood, residential schools, and hateful acts against Muslim, Asian and Black communities. 

"We say this just a small step that we can do to make sure that our neighbours know we're happy to be their neighbours and we want them to be our neighbours," said Laferriere.

Sarah Laferriere and her family are hosting one of 10 Little Free Diverse Libraries in Kitchener's Ward 8 neighbourhood. She says Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good, was an excellent read. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Her message to people who might be considering hosting a Little Free Diverse Library in the Hazleglen Drive area?

"It's a great opportunity to engage with your neighbours, in an easy way. We find ourselves out in the front yard often, people are walking down the street and they stop. It's a great opportunity to have a conversation, even if it's just a smile and wave, just to let them know you are another friendly face."

Ultimately, Thibeh hopes that, like her, others will take initiative and install Little Free Diverse Libraries outside Ward 8. 

"I would love to see this at businesses, it would be great to see one outside Communitech and having people interact with it there — if schools put this up in front," she said. 

"Let's bring down these walls of fear, let's build bridges of understanding so we can move forward collectively in a much more effective and healthy and evolved way."

"That, ultimately, is the dream."

This map, created by Dinah Murdoch, shows the locations of the 10 established Little Free Diverse Libraries in Ward 8, and the one area still searching for a host, in the Hazelglen area. (Dinah Murdoch)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Sharkey is a regional producer supporting CBC bureaus across Ontario. She has been been based in Kitchener since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC radio in Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU.

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