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Grab a book, pick a chair – enjoy the sunshine, or the shade at the Capital Reading Garden

By François Levesque on July 13, 2012

This story starts in New York City. Mary Beth Baker and her partner’s family were in the Big Apple and Mary Beth wanted to see the lions at the New York City library. They passed through Bryant Park to get to the library – and to their surprise – right at street level, they found a bunch of books, chairs and tables.  “The open air library was a beautiful space.” says Baker, who unfortunately didn’t get to spend that much time there. But the idea stuck in her head…

Fast forward a few months, and Mary Beth is in the last class of her Masters Degree in Library and Information Studies – a course entitled Placing Users First: Designing for Real People, that basically teaches methods to making products, websites, and spaces that reflect the people who use them. A lot of projects focused on websites, which Mary Beth was less interested in. That’s when the idea of the outdoor library came back to her.

Back in Ottawa, she saw students and others hanging out and reading by the Canal. She spoke to friends and family and then other groups that hung out there and wanted to see what would add to their experiences. She got many responses, had people draw (there were your typical answers – books and shelves but others were more out there: flowers, fish ponds, sexy librarians). When it was time to write up her final report, she considered many of those elements, but when she responded to the National Capital Commission’s call for project proposals to animate the Canal, she returned to the Bryant Park model.

This past April, Baker went back to New York City for some training. By that time, the NCC had already accepted the proposals. The training she took part in was organized by folks from the Project for Public Spaces – some of the same people who helped found the Bryant Park outdoor reading space.  She asked lots of questions, came back to Ottawa, and with the help of three other partners, started to put into action her successful proposal to the NCC for the Capital Reading Garden. One Awesome Ottawa grant later, the project is ready to officially launch this Saturday and Sunday.

“The Bryant Park outdoor reading space has a $9M budget.” says Baker. “We’re quite a bit more modest but we’ll have lots of books, magazines, papers as well as chairs, tables and wifi access. From everything I’ve learned, having movable chairs is one of the most important aspects of public design. People like to make themselves comfortable by moving chairs around to find sun or shade.”

The Capital Reading Garden will be set up by the Canal near the Corktown Bridge (on the University of Ottawa side) this weekend, July 14-15; August 11-12 and September 1-3. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

View Capital Reading Garden / Jardin de lecture de la capitale in a larger map

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