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Community Matters


August 28th, 2014

By Jock MacKenzie

YIMBY means Yes, In My Back Yard. YIMBY Reads is a program that re-distributes books. Last year, hundreds of students, parents and teachers from Red Deer schools said Yes In My Back Yard and over 7,000 books found new homes.

YIMBY Reads began in Red Deer in January 2013. But it could have begun — or could begin — anywhere in Alberta or Canada or the world. The concept is simple: Ask students if they would share gently used books with other students in their town. Ask students to bring the books to school. Get volunteers at the school to box the books. Find someone willing to haul the boxes to another school. Allow the teachers in the receiving school to use the books to their best advantage — build or add to classroom libraries, use them as incentives, give the books away to students who don’t have books or who want a new book to read.

It’s simple. It solves a problem right at home. And it’s virtually free.

Why collect books in one school and send them to another? Why not re-distribute the books in the same school? Well, it’s just not as much fun! The students seem to enjoy collecting and sending the books. They clearly enjoy receiving them — and even if it’s only from across town, receiving boxes and boxes of books has a special effect.

I started YIMBY Reads in Red Deer because I’d been teaching at Reading College, a month-long summer program for Grade Two students who were struggling readers. (for more on Reading College go to Quite a number of the students did not have much to read at home. In the first year of Reading College, over 80 per cent of the students did not have library cards.

I went to principal, Karen Vanderwater, at Mattie McCullough Elementary School to propose the plan described above. Within a month, 1,500 books had been collected. I took them to G.H. Dawe School. The Leadership Team, under the guidance of Gwen Dawes-Harker, created a school-wide challenge; they collected 1,700 books. Many of the books went back to Mattie McCullough and some went to Normandeau K – 8 School. The Normandeau books were used at the end of a Parent-Child Night. Acting librarian Amber Mitten gave a book to each child who had attended.

The program grew to include other schools in the system; one is set to start up in the fall and more are considering joining the cause — even a high school. A local coffee shop has also expressed interest.

As the program grew and expanded, it seemed like a good idea to provide a few extras — like good quality banker boxes (nice sturdy cardboard boxes with lids) and labels that announced who had donated the books. Enter Dan Murdoch of Doormasters, a local company. Dan donated enough for 10,000 labels and an ongoing supply of boxes.

And to make a good thing even better, in June, I got chatting with Carrie Waldo, the art teacher at Hunting Hills High School. She said, “We have paint supplies that are just going to dry up over the summer. And the last few days of school would be perfect for my kids to paint the YIMBY boxes. Each one would unique.” What could I say?

I then went to the classroom next door where T.J. Hartel was teaching Graphic Design. He explained YIMBY Reads to his class and asked if anyone was willing to try designing a label. A handful of volunteers went to work and produced creative designs. I chose the one created by Jon Rendell and it’s the label we continue to use.

So on we go. The program is up and running and expanding. It relies on students who are willing to give up their books, parents who encourage sharing, teachers and secretaries and leadership or office students to label the books (so many books started coming in that Mattie McCullough school has been using the school stamp instead of getting individual signatures), and someone like me with a truck to take the books from school to school.

YIMBY Reads is the kind of program that does not help people in the Third World. Nor does it involve the unfortunately more popular term, Nimby, (Not in my backyard) which is used to suggest someone solve a problem somewhere else.

YIMBY does work here; YIMBY Readscould work anywhere. And it could be YIMBY Sports if it meant donating used but still good sporting equipment. It could be YIMBY Helps if it meant volunteering your time to cut a senior’s grass or shovel a neighbor’s walks. It could be YIMBY __________________ . . . well, you fill in the blank.

I know that YIMBY Reads is successful mostly because of time and effort. There’s no real recognition. My heartfelt thank you is the sole reward to all who are involved — and the knowledge that young people in my hometown continue to enjoy the gift of reading.

Does this sound like a good idea? Does your child have books that could be put to better use? Is your school participating? YIMBY Reads is not a franchise. It’s just an idea — feel free to get involved.

If you’d like more information and some helpful start-up materials, please get in touch. Email me at

Tags: Books, education

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