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300th little library puts Victoria on the map

People with time on their hands during the COVID-19 pandemic have been busy creating little free libraries in the last few months, with the 300th recently unveiled at the corner of May and Joseph streets — making Victoria the city with the highest de
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Teale Phelps Bondaroff, right, stands with builder and homeowner Jim Pungente and his wife Inga by Moss Rocks Little Library, which has two reading benches and solar-powered lights to help people peruse its collection.

People with time on their hands during the COVID-19 pandemic have been busy creating little free libraries in the last few months, with the 300th recently unveiled at the corner of May and Joseph streets — making Victoria the city with the highest density of little free libraries in Canada.

Twenty new ones have appeared in the past few months. The small free-book boxes, which operate on the leave a book, take a book principle, can be found throughout the capital region, from Jordan River to Sidney.

The 300th addition — the Moss Rocks Little Library — has solar-powered lights as well as two reading benches.

“Each library displays their identity and their vision to make the community beautiful,” says Teale Phelps Bondaroff of the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, which has been mapping the libraries across the CRD.

No two libraries are alike — some have angel wings, while others are shaped like giant books. There are miniature houses with cedar-shingle roofs, an old sea chest and a grand piano. Many use recycled materials — some are built of repurposed metal Times Colonist newspaper-dispensing boxes.

Jim Pungente, who built the Moss Rocks Little Library with its accompanying benches, says it’s a place to sit and relax while perusing one of the treasures within. Pungente notes that the nook is dual-purpose, since it’s also a good place to wait for a bus to Camosun College or the University of Victoria. “You may want to finish your homework sitting on the bench while waiting for your bus or just relax and read something from the library. It is yours to enjoy.”

Phelps Bondaroff said some of the little libraries have evolved to provide more than books. Some offer seeds or used household items. One has turned into a community bulletin board, matching people who need help with those who are able to give it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network runs the Pocket Places Project, which helps people install their own libraries. There are also blogs on how to build and install a library.

An army of volunteers, including Phelps Bondaroff, top up collections with fresh books donated by individuals, the Greater Victoria Public Library or leftovers from the Times Colonist Book Sale. The organization delivered the project’s 15,000th book to a library in Fernwood last month.

Phelps Bondaroff says there is a “magic” to little free libraries. “Whenever I’m out cycling around dropping off books to little free libraries, I meet fascinating people and fall into interesting conversations,” he said. “Little free libraries don’t just help share books throughout the city, they also help foster community. These days, people realize that now, more than ever, we need points of connection in our shared public spaces.”

For more information and a map of all the little libraries in the CRD, go to victoriaplacemaking.ca/ projects/little-free-libraries.

parrais@timescolonist.com