Mini-libraries improving children’s literacy across Montreal

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WATCH: An initiative from Montreal's NDG borough is inspiring literacy in children by bringing the books to them in the form of mini-libraries. Global's Dan Spector reports – Jan 4, 2019

When is the last time you visited your local library? If it’s been a while, then you might want to take note of an initiative from Montreal’s NDG borough that’s bringing the books to you.

“It’s about promoting literacy through the book, the magical powers of the book,” said Helen Fortin, CEO and executive director of the Fraser Hickson Institute.

Fortin and her team of three have created the MINIBIBLIOplus program.

“The big problem in Quebec — low literacy levels — is because 36 per cent of parents don’t even read to their kids in the evening. We’re really trying to change all that,” Fortin said.

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They’ve set up dozens of mini-libraries at organizations across the city.

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“If you want a little library in your centre, your daycare centre, we’re even in hospitals. We’re in Sainte-Justine [Hospital]. All you have to do is call us,” Fortin told Global News.

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The idea was born when the Fraser-Hickson Library closed its doors eight years ago.

“Many of the books were auctioned off, but we had all these other books left and that’s when I said, ‘we have to do outreach. These books cannot got to waste,'” Fortin explained.

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MINIBIBLIOplus has books in both English and French.

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“It’s just been working really well. We started with the YMCA in 2013 and all of a sudden, five years later, we’re at 71 sites in Montreal,” Fortin said.

After organizations contact the team, Barbara Whiston, the resident librarian, pays them a visit.

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“I need to have a good understanding of what kind of background the children have,” Whiston explained.

It’s her job to decide what kind of books will be best-suited for each mini-library.

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The books are then selected, packed up, and sent out.

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“We’re bringing books to life and bringing them to children in the community,” said Raquel Fereira, who coordinates volunteers and delivers books to the mini-libraries.

A team of 30 volunteers visits the different organizations regularly to read to the kids.

“I feel really like I’ve done something good. They can learn from me and I can learn from them,” said volunteer Jessica Tungpalan.

Parents can check the books out of the library right there at their child’s daycare or wherever else they are, the hope being that they go home and read to their kids.

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“It not only raises literacy levels by getting parents to read to their children, it gets the parents enthused about the notion of going to a library and they’ll bring their kids to the library on the weekend,” said Fortin.

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She said she has big plans for the mini-biblio program.

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“I think there could be hundreds if we could put in our new concept the way I see it evolving,” she said.

She hopes to eventually spread the idea all across the country.

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