Guest post by Laura Zizek
Laura is currently a journalism student at Ryerson University and an editorial intern at Canadian Living. She is a lover of film, literature and food.
Bookstores are sanctuaries. They provide a place where readers can disappear into fictional worlds and travel through the looking-glass with Alice or spend Christmas with the Weasleys. Reading can provide comfort, yet many children don't have access to books. That's where book banks come in. Book banks are like bookstores, only the books—donated by families, publishers and retailers—are gently used and free. Located in areas of need, banks allow visitors to take home one book per visit, one visit per day. The
Children’s Book Bank
in Toronto's Regent Park, a community housing development in the city's downtown, is the first of its kind in Canada. Kim Beatty, a retired lawyer, established the registered charity after she began feeling restless at work more than eight years ago.
She was sitting at her computer when she came up with the idea. “We have food banks, we have clothing banks, we have furniture banks. Why don’t we have book banks?” she wondered. Beatty began researching and found a book bank in New Haven, Connecticut. The rest is history. But not all book banks are the same.
Books for Me!
is a Vancouver charity that operates out of elementary schools, a YMCA and neighbourhood housing—cheaper alternatives to retail space. Organizers deliver books to 11 locations across the city once or twice per month. This allows Books for Me!, which opened in October 2011, to provide for more people who otherwise wouldn't have access, says president Mary Ann Cummings. In order for the Children’s Book Bank to have a wider reach, it offers storytime to school groups and has partnered with agencies that work in impoverished neighbourhoods. The bank provides books and advice to agencies on how they can run their own book banks. Alexandra Yarrow, acting manager at the Ottawa Public Library, knew almost nothing about book banks until she and her husband toured the Children’s Book Bank. “We were both moved to tears,” says Yarrow. Inspired to create something similar in Ottawa, she started
Twice Upon a Time
in 2012. In the process of becoming a charitable organization, the bank is slated to open its first pop-up shop—a twice-weekly affair at Heartwood House—this spring. The need for book banks is there. A 2010 University of Nevada study found a link between the number of books in a home and the education a child receives—as few as 20 books can be the catalyst to obtaining a higher education. They're also a place where families can recycle books they no longer need. In the beginning, Beatty was worried that technologically inclined kids wouldn’t be interested in books—but she was pleasantly surprised. “Since we opened, we have been consistently busy,” says Beatty, noting the bank can see upwards of 200 people in one day. One nine-year-old boy visited the bank, unaware he could keep the book he selected. When he found out that it was his to own, he raised his hands into the air and said, “Oh, I must be in heaven.” When kids visit Books for Me! for the first time, says Cummings, they "just choose the first book they see.” After a few visits, Cummings started noticing kids would examine five or six books before choosing one to take home. “Its also really important not to be just given a book but to choose the book,” she says. “We hope that we are inspiring curiosity in children,” says Yarrow, who considers children’s book banks to be a “building block for life-long learning.” They can even be a child’s personal fellowship with their very own Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.
(Photo courtesy Children's Book Bank)