For Karsmina Kam and her three-year-old son Ethan, story time is a special time.
"Our little guy loves reading books," said Karsmina. "It's his calm down thing, it's his snuggle time, it's our time together and it's the activity he loves doing with me the most."
"If we can we will often go to the local library and grab two or three books at a time and those are his bedtime stories for the week," adds Karsmina.
Karsmina and her husband, Will, both live and work full time as engineers in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Like most working parents, even simple pleasures like going to the library on a regular basis can be hard to fit into their family's busy schedule.
"Like Ethan, I like reading novels too, but time really seems to be the limitation lately in our lives. The library is all the way downtown and we can usually only get there once or twice every month."
Enter mini libraries, a small but mighty new community initiative that is the perfect fit for busy book-loving families in the Fort McMurray area like the Kams. The premise is simple – locate the nearest mini library box in your community, take a book, leave a book and enjoy!
Although the concept of mini libraries is not a new one, this is a first for Fort McMurray, and in just a few weeks the city is expected to have five mini libraries open for "business" within the community.
"We are a very tight-knit community and I think people will really embrace and use these mini libraries," said Dawn Sidoroff, manager, marketing and fund development for the Wood Buffalo Regional Library. "We've been working with our partners over the past year to order materials, get the boxes, have them painted by community members and identify appropriate locations within the community. They are finally ready to go."
The launch of the mini libraries is timely. Like many homes and businesses in Fort McMurray, the Wood Buffalo Regional Library was also impacted by the devastating wildfires that wreaked havoc on the Fort McMurray area back in May, 2016. The facility itself was closed for nearly two months and one of the biggest impacts the library faced was the loss of approximately $100,000 in materials. This included replacing the majority of their children's programming materials due to potential smoke damage, and materials that were checked out of the library at the time of the wildfires.
"The material loss was the biggest impact for the library," said Jessie Levesque, community services coordinator for the Wood Buffalo Regional Library.
The library is in the heart of the community and what better way to build community spirit after such a devastating event then by spreading that community spirit around the city. The Wood Buffalo Regional Library, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray Today and TransCanada recognized this opportunity and have partnered together to make the mini libraries a reality and bring a little more joy into the community for many years to come.
With the library back and running to pre-fire attendance numbers, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch the mini library initiative that has been under development for almost a year.
In early September, approximately 150 community members gathered in downtown Fort McMurray to kick off the mini libraries' debut. The event was not only an opportunity to introduce the libraries to the community and get their feedback on locations, it was also a chance for community members to put their painting skills to work. Dozens of kids took part in painting the fifth and final mini library box before the boxes are placed out in the community.
The Kams were among the families that attended the event and are excited to see the mini libraries become part of the community.
"I think these mini libraries are such a cool idea. We won't have to go all the way downtown to get books and I am hoping we will get lots of varieties of books in there to choose from," said Karsmina. "It will also be a neat opportunity for adults to see what novels everyone else in the community is reading. We are pretty excited about it all."
Although only five libraries are going out in the community for now, the library says they'd love to expand and add more mini libraries in the future.
Dawn, Jessie and the team at the library couldn't be more excited to see this initiative come to life and are looking forward to the opportunity to provide community members who can't make it to the library on a frequent basis a convenient option to have access to books. After receiving feedback from the community on where the boxes should be located, five highly frequented and populated areas were chosen to house the tiny boxes of entertainment, including the local hospital and arena, popular parks and walkways and an area of town which was hit hard by last year's wildfires.
"These mini libraries are the perfect opportunity to brighten up the community and focus on an initiative that will not only address immediate needs of the community, but be around for the long-term," said Cole Thomson, community relations representative, TransCanada. "TransCanada is thrilled to have been a part of this initiative."