Thom Knutson

‘Celebrating the joy of reading’

When manager of the Campbell River branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL), Thom Knutson, returned home from the Decoda Literacy Conference last November, one of the sessions that stuck with him was on developing what are being referred to colloquially as “Open-Air Libraries.”

“And I thought, you know, we’ve got this beautiful square right across the street. We’re perfectly placed to do this,” Knutson says. “It’s a great opportunity to do something kind of new and exciting.”

The whole idea of open-air libraries, Knutson says, goes back to the Great Depression in New York, when the New York Public Library was trying to keep people engaged with literacy and learning at a time when many couldn’t afford books and moved a bunch of books outside into Bryant Park, made them available for free, and encouraged people to just come read for a while – and then take the book with them when they left.

The nearest example of the initiative is in Sidney at Beacon Park, where the Sidney/North Saanich branch of the VIRL has been operating their open-air library for a few years now, so Knutson worked with their staff to determine the logistics of starting one up here.

It was actually less work than he thought it would be, once he got Campbell River Literacy on board.

“They have such great volunteers and they get so many book donations that they’ll be letting us use for it,” Knutson says. “For us, it’s really just a matter of scheduling staff for it and bring the books across the street.”

But they’ll get the scheduling figured out, “and we just have to hope for good weather,” he says with a laugh.

Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate entirely, he’s been working together with management of Spirit Square, who has assured him the tents will be up and there will be chairs available for people to gather under them if necessary.

“It’ll work,” he says, confidently.

Part of that confidence comes from the fact that, as he says, “We’re just getting ‘er off the ground this year,  and while we’re hoping it’ll turn into a long-standing thing for the community, for now we’re just going to keep it simple.”

Like the Bryant Park open-air library in Sidney, if you like what you’re reading you can just take it home and keep it, Knutson says.

“The books are all donated and we’re encouraging people to take them. There’s no library cards, you don’t need to check in, you just come, grab a book and go relax with it in the shade or wherever.”

He’s hoping – though he hasn’t figured out where he’ll get them – to have a stack of beach blankets available for people to borrow to spread out on the lawn or benches, as well, when they take a book off the shelf.

“It’s just about celebrating the joy of reading,” Knutson says. “Whatever we can do to encourage people to have fun with books, we’ll look at ways to do that.”

Library in the Square will run Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. throughout the summer, which Knutson says, is great for people working downtown.

“They can bring their lunch over, grab a book and pull up a chunk of lawn. Then they can keep it if it’s any good.”

Opening day for Library in the Square is tentatively scheduled for July 6.