Neighbourhood library in Sherbrooke creating hub for newcomers
Apartment transformed into free library, community centre for new immigrants
Gabriel Kabro can't remember ever entering a library in his home country of Syria.
Only steps away from his new home in Sherbrooke, Que., where he moved with his family three years ago, Kabro and his siblings can now spend hours looking through the colourful books that line the walls of a basement apartment, turned into a neighbourhood library.
"Last time, I got a book about SpongeBob and so did my brother," he said, adding he hopes to find some titles in Arabic.
The 11-year-old, his younger brother Manuel and sister Shoshan can now attend story time once a week along with other kids from Sherbrooke's Fleurimont borough, one of the most diverse in the city.
Serving up food and tales
Simply named La bibliothèque du quartier, library coordinator Julia Mikhail said the idea came from local residents who got together to build up the project.
"We saw the need for it. Not only for children but also for adults [because they have limited] access to books and reading material," she said, adding that Sherbrooke's closest public library is a 20-minute bus ride from Fleurimont.
The basement apartment was donated by the housing co-operative Habitations l'Équerre, which comprises several affordable housing units on Jardins-Fleuris Street, where several immigrant families live.
No library card, no strings attached
A portion of the library contains books that can only be read on site.
Used books are also donated on a regular basis by the thrift store Estrie Aide. The library allows users like Hubert Nidiniganidilim to bring the donated titles home — no library card required and no questions asked.
Nidiniganidilim said this is a convenient option for him, given a trip to the library with his four children under the age of six is no easy task.
The family moved to Sherbrooke six months ago from Central African Republic and learned about the library while picking up a food basket.
"It's easy to get here, I can just walk and stop by and that makes it very accessible."
Georges Korji was a pharmacist in his native Syria. He had to leave his book collection at home when he left for Sherbrooke six months ago.
"You have priorities, so you cannot choose the books. You just want to get out because of the war," he said.
Korji said he loves the initiative and is hoping to discover more books in the coming months on subjects such as philosophy, spirituality, and pharmaceutical research.