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Little libraries in Banff encourage reading, community involvement

“In terms of Banff, there has been discussion over the years, and it goes back to the Banff community social assessment where people want opportunities to connect with their neighbours and other members of the community. Little libraries are a great example of social infrastructure, so places that support social connection in neighbourhoods and communities as a whole.”

BANFF – Throughout Banff, various little libraries are starting to pop up, offering residents a chance to pick up a book to read while out for a walk.

The free libraries were created through a partnership with the Town of Banff, Banff Community High School (BCHS) and the Banff Public Library. Students at BCHS built the little libraries in 2020 and the Banff Public Library helped supply the book collection within the little libraries. The Town of Banff provided staff and materials to erect the boxes.

“We provided our streets team, who helped coordinate the location of the boxes,” said Alison Gerrits, director of community services for the Town of Banff. “They dug poles, manufactured the posts, and helped to install them. The town has committed to maintaining the infrastructure of them as the project moves forward.”

Currently, libraries are located at the Upper Middle Springs playground, the Banff Child Care Center, Lower Middle Springs, Rotary Park, Puzzles Child Care Centre and at the junction of the Wolverine and Ken Madsen path to the Banff Centre. All but one of the locations is on town-owned property.

“We look at what we had and put them in places where we felt they would have as much access as possible,” Gerrits said. “It was just trying to divide them up so they would be accessible in the community to as many people as possible.”

The concept of little libraries is not new, having been developed in the United States to enhance literacy in underserved neighbourhoods. The first official Little Free Library was erected in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin.

He filled the library, designed to look like a small schoolhouse, with books to honour his late mother who was a school teacher. The idea soon began to spread and by 2020, there were 90,000 libraries located in 91 countries around the world.

“In terms of Banff, there has been discussion over the years, and it goes back to the Banff community social assessment where people want opportunities to connect with their neighbours and other members of the community,” Gerrits said. “Little libraries are a great example of social infrastructure, so places that support social connection in neighbourhoods and communities as a whole.”

As can be expected, the Banff Public Library was very interested in the initiative and signed on quickly.

“They are very committed to literacy and instilling a love of reading in the community,” Gerrits said. “It was just something people thought would be a nice addition to the community and it aligns to the things we are trying to work on as a municipality.”

While the libraries are about encouraging reading, they also build community involvement because of the practice of taking and leaving books to ensure the libraries always have books for people to enjoy.

“It is not just about books and reading, it is about community building and it requires ongoing participation to be successful,” Gerrits said.

The libraries are only in their soft launch phase this month, but an event is planned for September when participants and community partners are back.

“An official launch event will be tied to the boxes, so there will be readings and participation with all the organizers and the community can come together,” Gerrits said.