Neighbourhood library in Sherbrooke creating hub for newcomers

A small apartment in a nondescript building in Sherbrooke has been turned into a free library, filled with colourful books that people can borrow, no strings attached, as they build a new life in the community.

Apartment transformed into free library, community centre for new immigrants

Children taking part in story time at Sherbrooke's neighbourhood library, which is offered by Frontier College once a week. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

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.

​Storm on the Savanna, The Atlas of Global Inequalities, Afghanistan in pictures  the collection depicts realities from around the world that users like Kabro can identify with. 
The brand new collection of books at Sherbrooke's neighbourhood library were selected to reflect the origins and interests of the area's diverse residents. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

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.

Seven-year-old Manuel Kabro, right, points out flags from different countries in one of the dictionaries found at library. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)
Community organizations have used the apartment as a base for several services over the years, according to Mikhail, but she said activities have exploded in the past six months.
The library is the latest addition, sharing the space with a food bank distribution centre, a small food co-op and a meeting place for French classes and craft workshops.
The library is located in the basement of this apartment building in Sherbrooke's Fleurimont borough. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

No library card, no strings attached

A portion of the library contains books that can only be read on site.

The collection was purchased thanks to a $7,000 grant from Partners for Educational Success Estrie, a school perseverance program in the Eastern Townships. 
Hubert Nidiniganidilim picks up a book at Sherbrooke's neighbourhood library. The Lion King and Frozen are for his children, but Astérix is for him to help improve his French. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

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."

Nidiniganidilim said his children love to look at the images in the books he brings home, and reading allows him to improve his French.
Georges Korji says he hopes to have more time to read now that he has settled with his wife in Sherbrooke after difficult years in Syria. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

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.