Book fairies want to bring Toronto riders 'back to paper'

Books on the Transit aims to spread the love of reading by leaving books for passengers to borrow and pass on.

'I just want to see people reading more,' says Sanders

Danielle Sanders says Margaret Atwood and John Irving are among her favourite authors. (Supplied by Danielle Sanders)

When Danielle Sanders glances around on her daily ride into work, she sees heads bowed into glowing screens, thumbs tapping out messages to the void.

The whole experience strikes 25-year-old Sanders as depressing. So one day in March — rather than sigh and turn back to her own digital world — she decided to break the cycle.

Sanders co-founded Books on the Transit, a kind of chaotic, mobile library, alongside another Toronto-area bookworm, Kristyn Little.

Their mantra: Ride, read and return.

"I commute daily. People are absorbed in their phones, and I wanted to change that and revolutionize the commuter experience to bring it back to paper," Sanders said of her motivation for the project.

Kristyn Little says she just wants to spread her love of reading to others. (Supplied by Kristyn Little)

Sanders and Little go out on regular "book drops," leaving classics and new releases around hand-rails, on seats and just about anywhere in the station for riders to pick up.

They've got about 100 books in circulation, Little says, and each one has a sticker affixed to the cover declaring that it's to be brought home, enjoyed, and returned to a conspicuous corner of the Toronto transit system for the next rider to use.

Separately, both co-founders reached out to the international organization Books on the Move, which originated in London, U.K. and New York City. 

Divisions now exist in Boston, Montreal and Los Angeles, amongst other cities worldwide.

Soon after meeting through Books on the Move, Little and Sanders launched social media pages to promote the Toronto branch.

They reached out to the transit operator Metrolinx, which Little says got on board with enthusiasm. "Our contact there even 'likes' all of our Instagram photos," Little laughed.

Books on the Transit hasn't received permission to run book drops on the TTC, but Little hopes they can expand Books on the Transit to include Toronto's busy subway and bus network.

TTC officials originally told Books on the Transit that the transit agency didn't have the resources to tackle the project and to contact them again in 2018.

In a statement to CBC Toronto on Monday morning, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the transit agency is not interested in participating at this time.

"We would prefer people, no matter how well-intentioned, not leave books laying around on TTC property," said Green.

"There is the very real possibility they could get turned in as lost articles or simply discarded and we cannot take on the additional task of trying to keep tabs on these items," he added. "Toronto has one of the greatest public library systems in the world that people should be encouraged to use."

Little still hopes to partner with the TTC and says Books on the Transit would take on the bulk of the work if books needed to be collected from the lost and found.

"Having books on the TTC would be huge," said Little. "A growing bookshare program would make people enjoy and look forward to their commute."

Books "bring people together in a way that a phone can't," Sanders added, pointing out that a book can be a conversation starter, a way to connect to one's transit companions.

"If you look at old photos, everyone's sitting on the train with newspapers. That was an element that was missing on my daily commute."

Eventually, the two want to see people dropping books of their own accord.

"I just want to see people reading more," said Sanders. "They're conversation starters, brain food."