If books can inspire, then Dinah Murdoch and the KW Little Free Diverse Libraries project has already made an immeasurable impact across our community since its launch earlier this year. Motivated by a quote from the book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Murdoch immediately identified with the words of a white character in the book speaking about anti-Black racism who said, “doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” And so began her own efforts to promote diversity, representation, and activism – through literature.

An Early Literacy Intervention Resource Teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), and mother of two, reading is close to her heart and equity consciousness is engrained in her work. After experiencing the closure of schools during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and feeling the impact of the social uprising in response to the death of George Floyd in May, Murdoch felt compelled to take action locally.

“I had taken my kids to the Black Lives Matter solidarity march in downtown Kitchener and it was incredibly moving and powerful,” said Murdoch. “Around that time there were so many calls to action on social media and I came across the idea to use little libraries as a platform to diversify the books we read and expand our mindset as a community,” said Murdoch.

It didn’t take long for her to start generating support through word of mouth, social media, local news, and even neighbourhood chalkboards. Donations of money and books started to roll in and Murdoch was quickly able to start populating Little Free Libraries with new books that offered more diverse storylines and experiences. To date, she has distributed approximately 750 books and raised almost $3500. Wherever possible, Murdoch chooses to support book stores with Black, Indigenous or people of colour as owners or local businesses with the funds and also accepts donations through an Indigo Registry.

Nominated as WRDSB 2020 Champion by her colleagues, Murdoch’s dedication to the project, the community, and to her students resonated across all of their submissions.

“Dinah has a humongous heart and is always thinking of others so it didn’t surprise me at all when she took this on.” said nominator, Brenda Anderson. “When I saw the call out for WRDSB Champions, she was the first person to come to mind.”

The goal of the project is to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and other writers of colour and to help educate, inspire and encourage and promote anti-racism across the region.

“I think it’s really important because Little Free Libraries are in more neighbourhoods than our public libraries and anybody can come and take a book or leave a book,” said Natasha Krahn, who also nominated Murdoch. “You don’t need a library card or an account which means more diverse books are available in our communities, and to many people who might not be able to access them otherwise.”

In an exciting new development, the City of Kitchener recently selected the Little Free Diverse Libraries project for a community grant, which has brought new energy and possibilities for the program. Murdoch hopes to add ten Little Free Diverse Libraries across the Ward 8 area of Kitchener and supply those libraries with books from racialized authors and stories of Black joy.

Unknowingly demonstrating her expertise, Murdoch explained that there are two kinds of reading experiences; a “window book” which is a story based on someone else’s life or lived experiences where the reader is swept up in a story that they could never imagine, and a “mirror book” which is when the reader identifies with the story and feels validated to know that someone else is just like them.

“All readers need both of these things in their lives. I think about the kids that I teach and how much their lives have probably been filled with window books, and very few mirror books,” said Murdoch. “I love the idea of them being able to pick up a book and see themselves – whether it’s a character wearing a head covering, a mother cooking a Syrian meal… all of that good stuff.”

Murdoch’s colleague also spoke to the importance of this work, especially in their own school community. “I was overwhelmed with pride for knowing someone who would go to such lengths to create something like this,” said Alaina Standring. “I know how much effort she has put in – which is no small feat – and how important it is for our students to see books of characters who look like them. It has been amazing to witness her journey.”

All books are labelled with information about this project before they are put into Little Free Libraries. Readers are encouraged to enjoy the books and return them to a Little Free Library near them when they’re finished. Books for this project are meant for all ages and include both fiction and non-fiction.

Murdoch reflected on the success of the program and what she hopes will inspire others. “The ultimate goal for me is that someone has picked up a book and is going to learn something new, maybe develop a sense of empathy that they didn’t have before or be spurred to action themselves in some way – fingers crossed.”

WRDSB 2020 Champions

It has been a year unlike any other in public education. All that we have achieved together as the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) would not have been possible without the individual contributions of our staff to support our students, staff and community.

We’ve received hundreds of nominations for WRDSB 2020 Champions from our internal campaign. We will be sharing a selection of these stories with our community in the lead-up to the winter break to help end the year on a bright note of positivity in a year when these are too few and far between. Join us by sharing these stories and more on social media with #ShareTheGood.