a peek inside the fishbowl

24 Sep, 2009

Be the change (subtitled: A Westboro book drive!)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro|Yaktivism

It started with a tweet by @conniecrosby.

RT @booksin140 Just stumbled across this community bookcase thanks to @suziegardner. Amazing: http://ow.ly/pySN

OF COURSE I had to see what was so amazing. It was this post about a community bookcase. In case you’re not clicking through I shall summarize.

  • There’s a shelf.
  • In a public area.
  • It has books.
  • People borrow books.
  • People leave books.
  • People read books.

Simple, isn’t it? And then I immediately wondered why we don’t have one in our neighborhood.

Think of the benefits of the community bookcase!

  • It’s free.
  • It encourages literacy.
  • It is community-minded.
  • It provides reading material to people of all ages.
  • There’s no library cards, overdue fines, or rushing to make timely returns. (!)

Inspired, I fired off an email to John Rapp, ED of Dovercourt Recreation Centre, and asked him what he thought about it and whether there’d be room for something in the upstairs “lounge” area at Dovercourt. It’d be the perfect place; an accessible, high traffic area which is used by people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Within an hour I got my reply. He’d get a shelf but I had to supply the books.

John has kindly held up his end of the bargain (THANK YOU!) and so now I’ve spearheaded a book drive.

This is what the bookcase looked like yesterday:


It looks a little empty, doesn’t it?

Here’s a close-up:


If you live in the Westboro area please consider donating some of your gently used books.  We’re looking for English and French books for all ages and reading levels in decent condition.

(Confession: I’m slightly worried that some people will donate books that aren’t exactly readable i.e. their university textbooks and WordPerfect 2.0 for Dummies. Wondering if what you’re donating is readable? Ask yourself if YOU would pick up this book and devote time reading it. Do you think other people will too? If so, donate. If not, use it for kindling.)

To summarize: Donations are welcome, but please don’t use this as an opportunity to unload your collection of National Geographics dating back to 1968.

If we get too many books (I’m thinking big, aren’t I?) I’d bring the overflow to Neighborhood Services (after we keep a few back to restock empty shelves of course).

The actual process of book borrowing would be rather informal and relies heavily on the honour system. People would be free to borrow any book (or any number of books) and take them home for any length of time. I also hope that people will exchange one book for another. I think it’ll balance out okay.

We’ll also need a few volunteers to keep the books in good order – sorting them and weeding out the ones that are falling apart etc. If you’re ever hanging out in the lounge waiting for your children’s swim/ballet/pottery class to end YOU’D BE PERFECT FOR THIS JOB.

I’d also love to have an informal sign out book so we know if the bookcase is getting use. That’ll be step two.

But first we need books. What do you say Westboro? Can you help? If you can’t part with your books please consider helping by spreading the word. Besides, good karma comes to those who answer THE ASK. ;)

Addendum: Many Fishbowl readers live outside the Ottawa area. Would you consider taking on the same kind of project at your local community centre? For a very small bit of effort this kind of thing sure does a lot of good. Let me know if you undertake something like this where you live!

31 Responses to "Be the change (subtitled: A Westboro book drive!)"

1 | Judy

September 24th, 2009 at 7:27 am


Great idea Andrea!

We don’t live in Westboro, and happily don’t have many books laying around we won’t re-read. With our friends we always trade, borrow, share, etc.

We have friends in Toronto we see about once a year and there are always books traveling back and forth and getting passed onto secondary friends. Or my mom will come visit from out west and take a book back with her to read on the plane, leaving the one she read on the way here!

2 | Jennifer

September 24th, 2009 at 7:27 am


OMG Andrea LOVE this idea!!! We are at Dovercourt lots, so I’ll bring some books. And I can volunteer just let me know what you need me to do.

3 | andrea

September 24th, 2009 at 7:45 am


Judy: We are surrounded by books! I am a book hoarder and don’t even dog-ear the pages. It is very hard for me to part with my books.

Jennifer: In terms of volunteering it’s nothing much! If you happen to find yourself upstairs at Dovercourt just straighten the books. Maybe organize by genre? i.e. kid’s books on the bottom shelf. Things like that.

4 | Alison in Ottawa

September 24th, 2009 at 7:54 am


I just love Dovercourt. It is just so great that they can act on something so quickly and are good at the common sense decision making process. So many places and people just say no instead of figuring out something that works. I am currently trying to weed down my collection of books as the shelves in my house are full and my previous method of book management has been to buy another shelf. This method is no longer viable so I have been donating books to the Ottawa Library. I am sure I can find some for the Dovercourt shelf too.

On that same note of finding a way to make stuff work, I am inspired by my friend Wendy who spearheaded an intiative to raise money for trees in our children’s school yard over the last year and yesterday 24(!) new trees were planted in the school yard. The City of Ottawa has a program that donated $10k! to the project. Also TD Friends of the Environment and Evergreen donated money too. Yipee!

5 | DaniGirl

September 24th, 2009 at 8:31 am


This is such a cool idea! I’ve done this in the office before, but the books get stale so quickly. I’ve got tonnes of new-release paperbacks to share, I’m just torn between dropping them off at Dovercourt for you or seeing if the Walter Baker Centre in Barrhaven is keen on the idea…

6 | andrea

September 24th, 2009 at 8:57 am


Alison: Yippee indeed! I love stories about the power of the individual!

DaniGirl: I am hoping for good turnover in terms of book variety given that it’s such a popular spot and a high traffic area. And I’m willing to bet that Walter Baker would do the same. Especially now that Dovercourt has shown them up. ;)

7 | Randa

September 24th, 2009 at 9:20 am


We do this at our office [here in Ottawa]. It works pretty well. About once a year I send out a reminder email to our staff that the shelf exists, and to bring in and/or borrow books. In fact, I think we’re about due for that reminder — I’ll send it out today! Good luck with your community shelf; I’m sure it will be well received!

8 | lacoop

September 24th, 2009 at 9:25 am


Dovercourt is great…and so is this idea, Andrea. We’ll drop by and contribute a few (good) books. By the way, we buy a lot of books, and sometimes we just spend too much (but we are happy to buy from good stores like Collected Works, and, Nicholas Hoare)…so when we are tapped out, we go to St Vincent de Paul where there is a big collection of books at very low cost.

9 | porter

September 24th, 2009 at 10:02 am


VERY cool idea! I donate or give away all of my books (most of them anyway) because we simply don’t have room in our house for them and I generally don’t go back to read books I’ve already read…I bet there are other people who would do the same. I might do something similar in my neighbourhood but not until after Christmas because I’ve decided to only take on minimal volunteer work until then so I can give myself a breather. Just another thought, but wouldn’t it be good for book clubs to get together and do book swaps? It would be harder to coordinate but still a neat idea too.

10 | Chantal

September 24th, 2009 at 11:52 am


We have two shelves like this at my office. I have just finished reading one book from it. It is a great idea.

I lived in a condo that did this as well.

I am sure yours will be warmly received. Especially by those parents sitting around waiting for their kids to finish a class.

11 | Carla

September 24th, 2009 at 3:07 pm


Awesome idea and hooray for Dovercourt! Love that place. We don’t have a lot of books to give away (as I tell my husband: “our favourite bookstore is called the library”), but I have magazines, like ahm… Oprah? Would these fit the bill?

12 | Christy

September 24th, 2009 at 3:24 pm


Where at Dovercourt can we drop the books off? I live in Riverside South but have just cleaned out storage and have a binfull of children’s books that were given to us that we never read (we have two full bookcases upstairs of books we do read) and was wondering what to do with them.

13 | andrea

September 24th, 2009 at 4:34 pm


Carla: I’d rather keep it to just books. But I know that there is a serious lack of magazines in the downstairs lounge and in the fitness centre. Maybe you can bring a few of them there?

Christy: Great! The shelf has been set up in the upstairs lounge. It’s right up against the wall which looks down into the pool area.

14 | Rebecca

September 24th, 2009 at 5:35 pm


This is such a great idea, good luck with it – I look forward to seeing the end results!

15 | Jennifer

September 24th, 2009 at 7:50 pm


Just got my mom to contribute a pile of gorgeous never been opened hard covers! Yeah! Will drop them off tomorrow. BTW I was by the bookshelf today and I thought a sign or something explaining what it is might help. Do you know if other ones have something like this or do enough people simply end up knowing what it is that signage is not necessary ?

16 | andrea

September 24th, 2009 at 7:53 pm



Jennifer: Someone from Dovercourt has made a great sign. It’s already there!

17 | jennyjag

September 24th, 2009 at 8:58 pm


wow I just noticed that shelf w books the other evening! I noticed it because a) I hadn’t seen it before and, b) I was desperately seeking my Nikon D60 manual that I had left there the previous night (sigh yes, lost already). So if anyone picked it up thinking it was a book to share (although I can’t think why that might happen but ya never know) …please return it to the shelf! and yes, I’ll keep checking the lost n’ found. Meanwhile missfish, it’s a great idea. I thought there was such a nice collection of classics there :)

18 | zoom

September 25th, 2009 at 6:33 am


Brilliant. I’m going to see about getting one set up at the community centre here in Carlington.

19 | Tiana

September 25th, 2009 at 10:46 am


I suggest that instead of a sign-out book, have a ‘guest’ book like restaurants and wedding receptions have so people can leave their comments etc without it having the rigid implications of a sign out book.

20 | Shirliana

September 26th, 2009 at 12:59 am


Wow. Great idea! I’m going to look into it.

21 | andrea

September 26th, 2009 at 7:18 am


Tiana: I love your idea. It’s all about the lingo!

Everyone else: THANK YOU. Your support has been inspirational!

22 | BeachMama

September 26th, 2009 at 7:53 am


Oh Andrea, I have a medium sized box of books I am looking to donate. Mostly original “Oprah’s Picks” but all good books. Would you be interested?

23 | Brenda (@ottawamom)

September 26th, 2009 at 8:12 am


Saw the shelf yesterday while we were at Dovercourt for my daughter’s ballet class and think it’s a great idea! Looks a little sparse and I would love to donate some of my kids books they no longer use. Is there someone I should give them to or just put them on the shelf?
Thanks for getting this started.

24 | Yes, that was me >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 30th, 2009 at 12:44 pm


[…] the word for good, and not for profit. Blogging about community initiatives, charitable causes, creative projects … that’s using the Power of Blogging for good. […]

25 | Jen_nifer

October 2nd, 2009 at 11:53 am


I would love to see an updated photo of the bookshelf!

26 | Nat

October 7th, 2009 at 6:55 pm


I just saw the article in the Kitchissippi Times about this and wanted to let you know that The Elmdale House Tavern has been doing a book exchange for over a year now. We are not in Westboro (Hintonburg), but some of your readers may come to see live music here. All the books you see on the shelves are from the “take a book, leave a book” exchange and we encourage patrons to go ahead and take one, and next time you’re in, drop one or two off. It has worked very well for us and the book collection changes all the time.

27 | It’s been crazyweek here at the Fishbowl >> a peek inside the fishbowl

October 9th, 2009 at 6:59 am


[…] There’s an article in our neighborhood paper about a project I am really excited about, the community bookcase! […]

28 | Connie Crosby

October 26th, 2009 at 12:23 pm


Wow, Andrea. I had no idea you had picked up on my tweet and started a whole movement! This is great.

One of the Starbucks in downtown Toronto (at Yonge & Bloor) still has the old Britnell’s bookstore shelves, so people have used those shelves for sharing in the past, although I see the practice has waned a bit as of late. Perhaps I should drop some books off there sometime.


29 | uberVU - social comments

October 26th, 2009 at 1:34 pm


Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by missfish: Twitter inspired me to take action in my community: http://bit.ly/Dyhh1

30 | andrea

October 26th, 2009 at 2:43 pm


Thanks for your comment Connie. And thanks for making that original Tweet and inspiring me to take action!

p.s. I checked the community bookcase today and you’ll be glad to know that it’s full. :)

31 | Sunday reading >> a peek inside the fishbowl

November 28th, 2010 at 8:49 pm


[…] thought I’d take a minute to let you know how our community bookcaseis doing. It is ok. Just ok. Maybe a tiny bit dreary and in need of a helping hand. A few too […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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