Ross McKague is one busy guy. A retired veterinarian, he’s also a glass artist, a woodworker and an art collector. He and his wife Brenda breed and sell — and own — racehorses. Not only is he involved with the ownership of Assiniboia Downs, but he’s a steward of the Jockey Club of Canada, a world traveller, an avid cyclist, and a voracious reader. And he’s combined a couple of those passions for his latest venture — what he suspects is the first Little Free Library in Brandon. McKague has built a structure on his property at 1310 Patricia Ave. where passersby — or anyone, for that matter — can help themselves to a book. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Tell me about the Little Free Library movement. What inspired you to become part of this in the first place? And you said you think yours is the first one in Brandon, or the first free-standing one?
I would almost guarantee that it’s the first, classical Little Free Library in Brandon.
What makes it a classical one?
Well, if you go online and Google ‘Little Free Library,’ you’ll get a gallery. And everybody tries to upstage everybody else in terms of the design and all the stuff that’s going on. And mine is just Plain Jane compared to most of them. I mean, some of these people, they’ve got like windows and little eaves and little edges. My brother-in-law’s is all stuccoed and painted to match his house!
Now one of the things is, by definition, you should be making these out of leftover stuff you have.
Because it’s sort of an environmental movement too?
A little bit. If you’re recycling these books, you shouldn’t be going down and buying a whole bunch of wood and expensive stuff. The only thing I purchased was the plexiglass and the hinge. All the rest of the stuff I had — the post and all the wood. This (frame for the door) is about-a-hundred-year-old oak picture frame that already had a groove in it — that’s what I put the plexiglass in. It didn’t take that long to do.
I put aromatic cedar in the back so it would keep it fresh. And it’s really solidly built — it’s lag-bolted and the supporting post is in four feet. The base plate for the letters is slate and then I cut the glass letters out.
Why did you want to do this in the first place? Because it just seemed like a neat concept?
Well, I’m a boomer. And all my friends have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books. And those books are sitting in their closets. I’m not sure who knows whether the book is a thing of the past. But in the meantime, unless they see them or are available to them, no one’s going to knock on somebody’s door and say ‘Have you got any extra books?’ But if someone’s wandering by, and they just happened to look in the library, and they think, ‘I wonder what that’s like — I heard that author was good.’ And they take a book. That’s the idea.
I think there could be lots of these Little Free Libraries around. This is a university town — I’m sure you could get an Intellectual Little Library! You might even get some textbooks from people who are leaving or who don’t need them anymore. Because they cost a lot of money nowadays.
How did you come across this notion?
I can’t remember whether I saw it on a TV show or I just saw it on a little sub-section of the Internet when I was flashing by. But it said Little Free Library and it had a picture. So then I Googled it and then I came up with this page. It started in England, apparently — it’s quite common there. And you can register your Little Free Library, just like you can register a hotel that allows pets or something. They’ve got a little map with dots all over the place. But I haven’t registered this one — this is an unregistered Little Free Library at this point.
When did you build yours?
Oh, it’s only been up a few weeks. And when I was putting up the post, there must have been 30 people who came by. And there was a couple that came by on bikes with all the accoutrements of biking and everything, and all trendy and young, and they said, ‘Is that one of those little libraries?’ So obviously it’s not an unknown thing.
I think it’s a great way of re-circulating reading material — people get to read books that are new to them, and you’re able to get to rid of books you no longer want.
It’s an aesthetic way of doing it. It’s not gaudy. It’s not like putting a box of books out there and getting them rained on or something. This Little Library is high and dry — it’s pretty sealed up. The roof is all sealed and the door closes and there’s an overhang so no rain can get in there.
Even though it’s called a ‘library,’ you don’t expect people to return the books, do you?
No. Some people put ‘take one, leave one.’ Now there were 31 books in here to start with, and I was counting them every day for the first four or five days and there were still 31 books. And then I realized there were quite a few books gone and people HAD replaced them. So they obviously had that in their minds, that that’s what you do.
Do you think you’ll get some books dropped off that you’ll take out and read?
That’s very possible. Brenda and I read different books. Most of the books I read, she would rather not read. And vice versa. So we’ve got a lot of books.
What books do you have in your Little Free Library now?
We’ve got some Stephen King, some John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Janet Evanovich, Pat Conroy — he’s a South Carolina guy — John Grisham. So we’re experimenting. I put ‘Brave New World’ in there just to see if anybody would take it. I threw a couple of pretty heavy-duty ones in there, and then I thought, ‘No — I don’t think so.’ They’re not exactly uplifting.
But the Grisham things — they’re almost a gimme, because there’s been a bunch of those already go. And we’ve got all of the Dick Francis, which are sort of horsey-based murder mysteries, so we’re going to put some of those out there. We’ll rotate what’s there, too. Because there’s no use having books sitting there if they’re sitting there for a month, nobody’s interested. So we’ll put some different ones out there.
You have a huge, beautiful property here. How did decide where to put your Little Free Library?
I was going to put it on the west side of my driveway, and I decided that, you know what? People are intimidated by taking things. So I thought if it was on the east side, there’s a big tree between it and the house. And if somebody wanted to take two, they wouldn’t feel bad. Whereas over there, if they thought I was looking out the window, and they grabbed a whole bunch ...!
So I put it right near the walking path where it was very accessible, and I also built a big full-pane window in the front — I thought the more open it could be, the more you could see all the books.
I think something like this could have a huge application in places like Riding Mountain National Park — people who are up there for the summer. I know when we’ve been on vacation, the biggest thing is people trading books.
But now both Brenda and I have Kindles. And we love them. I can read faster with them than I can with a book. But we’ve accumulated all these books. And I’ve helped people move and at the end of the day, you’re just storing them, and you’re going to throw them out. So why not give them away to people who are interested?
To find out more about Little Free Libraries, visit littlefreelibrary.org
The Mission of Little Free Library is:
• To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
• To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations
• To build more than 2,510 libraries around the world — more than Andrew Carnegie!
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 23, 2012