Communities outraged as ‘little libraries’ across Tri-Cities fall victim to supposed arsonist

Most neighbourhoods across Metro Vancouver are home to at least one Little Free Library, the small book exchange kiosks that have proven immensely popular with residents.

That’s why police and neighbours in the Tri-Cities are saddened and puzzled after at least seven of them were torched recently by what could be a serial arsonist.

Coquitlam RCMP said Thursday they are investigating the fires, which were reported in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam parks and school fields between March 20 and April 6. They’re asking people to also give police a heads up while calling the fire department.

“Our investigation has found that the majority of the fires have occurred late at night or very early in the morning,” Cpl. Michael McLaughlin said in a statement. “Most of these fires have not been immediately reported to police which hampers our ability to solve the crimes.”

Little Free Libraries is a non-profit organization that sets up the exchanges in 91 countries around the world to “build community and spark creativity,” according to its website.

Coquitlam Public Library executive director Todd Gnissios pointed out the libraries are meant for children to have easier access to books without having to access a traditional library, which makes the crime spree particularly sad to see.

“Books are an incredibly valuable thing for any young person,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate that people would destroy something that is just literally free and available for everyone.”

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said he hopes whoever is responsible for the fires is brought to justice, and said volunteers have already met with the intention to rebuild the libraries.

“These little libraries are a grassroots community effort,” he said. “It’s people in the community who stock them with books and make sure they’re maintained.

“To have someone waste their time doing this, I mean, what are you doing with your life?”

West also said city staff would take steps to better protect the libraries, which he admitted was “sad to have to discuss.”

Gnissios said similar rebuilding talks are being had in Coquitlam as well, but added some of the libraries were privately built and run, and couldn’t say whether those kiosks would also be restored.

Any person or group that signs up to open a Little Free Library pays a one-time fee of at least $39 to the organization to register the library and use the name.

Builders are also on the hook for materials and installation, although pre-built kiosks are also available for purchase on the organization’s website. Either way, setting up a library can cost upwards of $100.

Residents across the region were quick to express their outrage over the loss of the libraries and the books inside.

“It’s immature, it’s senseless,” Port Coquitlam resident David Thacker said. “When you see stuff like this, it makes me sad. The books are there for the kids. They don’t want to see this.”

Coquitlam real estate agent Farnaz Kazemi agreed: “I’d like to know who did it. We want them back here.”

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