Roberta Barber is the owner of two little libraries in the Cowichan Lake area where members of the public can take or leave secondhand books. This week the Gazette checked out everywhere in the area that sells (or gives away) used books.

Roberta Barber is the owner of two little libraries in the Cowichan Lake area where members of the public can take or leave secondhand books. This week the Gazette checked out everywhere in the area that sells (or gives away) used books.

Turning pages at the Lake: Where to get your secondhand books before Christmas

Do you have a book-lover on your holiday shopping list? Before you head to one of the bookstores out of

Do you have a book-lover on your holiday shopping list? Before you head to one of the bookstores out of town, check out the selection at some of your local secondhand book purveyors — it turns out there are quite a few right here at the Lake.

Berta’s Little Free Library

Just off the old Cowichan Lake Road, east of the Skutz Falls junction, you’ll find MacLean Road, a quiet residential area and home to Berta’s Little Free Library. It’s hard to miss — a sky blue box with a white-gabled roof perched at the end of Roberta and Dale Barber’s driveway. It looks like an oversized bird house but inside you’ll find three shelves of books.

Roberta got the idea to install it three years ago after reading an article about Little Free Library, a website encouraging users to create libraries and to register them on the organization’s map of more than 50,000 tiny libraries all over the world.

A lifelong reader and bibliophile, Roberta loved the idea of encouraging more people to read.

“We always have lots of books around here and it was easy to fill up the library,” she said.

The sign on the library says “Take a Book, Leave a Book” but Berta said there are really no strict rules. Often a book will disappear and never come back and that’s fine with her.

“I don’t mind the books leaving because someone will always replace them with something else,” she said.

While she doesn’t see queues of readers, lining up at the end of her driveway, the library does get a lot of use, most often by grandparents with small grandchildren because of the kids books in there.

The library turned out to be such a hit, this past summer Roberta and Dale (who constructed the library) installed a second one, this time on the Trans Canada Trail behind their house.

“I try to monitor the one at the back, to make sure they’re pocket-sized books because everyone is walking or on bikes,” she said, noting the trail library sees a lot of vacationers who are eager for some new reading material for their travels.

While Roberta curates selection, Dale ensures no water or snow gets in.

“We’ve had some pretty good reactions,” said Roberta. “We had a couple from Calgary buy a house on the street here, and when we were introduced to them and told them where we live, they said, ‘We bought on this street because we thought any street that has a library had to be a good street to live on.’”

Scarlett’s Second Hand Boutique

At 40 South Shore Rd. — in between the post office and Dot’s Shoe Store — is Scarlett’s Second Hand Boutique, one of the best places to find vintage anything in Lake Cowichan. She has furniture, clothing and, for our purposes today, secondhand books.

But don’t come expecting a wide selection.

“When I first opened I did have a small books section but for the amount of people that bought them and for the amount of space they took up, I couldn’t justify it,” said owner Scarlett Feltrin. “So I moved forward to just bringing in a few.”

Feltrin’s store deals in rare or antique books, and she doesn’t usually accept book donations. Although she does sell some colouring books by a local artist, for the most part Feltrin brings in books that are beautifully bound and are great for interior decorating.

“If I like the look of them, I buy. Even though you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, I do,” she said with a laugh.

Island Savings

In the Island Savings Lake Cowichan branch, to the right of reception and just past the coffee bar, you’ll find the credit union’s secondhand book shelf, which has been in place since 2004. Books are for sale by donation and the money raised goes into a local cystic fibrosis fund set up by the branch.

Money raised by the fund goes to three families in Lake Cowichan with members who have cystic fibrosis, offsetting some of the everyday costs that can add up.

“It helps with things like taxis. We’re not able to buy tons of things obviously but just a way to help with little things like paying back gas,” said Kim Girolami.

“We used to at one point have garage sales and bake sales because we had a staff member whose son [has cystic fibrosis] so that’s how it originated,” explained Pender Denninger. “It started off with her son because he needed a substantial amount of help so we were fundraising with that. Now everything’s good there but we’re continuing on and other families use it now.”

Both Denninger and Girolami agreed the shelf is popular, with credit union members and non-member alike coming to drop off books. Girolami estimated the shelf empties and is refilled four times over the course of a year.

Vancouver Island Public Library

Nowhere in town has more books than the VIRL Lake Cowichan branch, and that’s not counting a small section of secondhand books for sale there. You can find these items to the right of the holds section and are priced as follows: Hardcover ($2), paperback ($0.50), magazine ($0.25), CDs and DVDs ($1) and children’s books ($0.25).

Librarian Monica Finn said the library doesn’t typically request book donations from the public since it obviously has its own collection to sort through.

Finn said the library uses the M.U.S.T.I.E. criteria for weeding materials from its shelves: Misleading or factually inaccurate; Ugly (worn out); Superceded (meaning a newer volume has been released); Trivial (no discernible literary or scientific merit); Irrelevant (to the needs or interests of the public, so if it hasn’t been signed out for three years it’s generally deemed irrelevant); or Elsewhere (the book can easily be found somewhere else).

Funds raised by the book sale go into an account specifically for upgrades to the local branch.

Butler Locksmithing

Maybe you haven’t yet had need for the locksmith services offered by Erin Butler at Butler Locksmithing, but pop your head in the shop anyway. You’ll see the business is about more than just locks — artwork, purses, and now a large selection of books curated by Erin and his wife, Jenny.

“We have almost different specialties. I’m more sci-fi, Jenny’s more mysteries,” said Butler. “There’s ones that neither of us particularly like — the Nora Roberts romances — but they’re easy reads.”

Their collection of books for sale is the largest in town, and includes just about any genre you can think of, and the works of everyone from John Grisham to Oscar Wilde.

They also have an extensive children’s books section, too.

Butler said the store happily accepts donations, but he wanted to be clear their shop is not for charity.

“We are selling them at book profit,” he said. “If people want to give them to a charity, they really should do so. I have no problems with that at all. We do give store credit if people do want it.”

Canada Post

Possibly the newest secondhand book sale in Lake Cowichan, this one likely gets seen more than any other — Canada Post has books for sale just inside the office door.

The initiative was started by the Canada Post Community Foundation, which raises money for community organizations across Canada whose programs support children. Funds raised at the Lake Cowichan branch go to the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society.

The post office accepts books for the shelf and asks for a donation of one or two dollars if you want to take a book.

Postmaster Joe Pearson said the sale has been a hit since it was set up earlier this year. They have raised approximately $400, and they hope to raise even more in 2017.

Cellar Treasures

Prices so low, they’re underground — that’s what Cellar Treasures Thrift Store offers the people of Lake Cowichan, and the same can be said of their books section.

“Hardbacks are $1 and paperbacks are $0.50,” said Betty Kremer, who is a parishioner at St. Christopher and St. Aidan, and a volunteer at the shop located in the church basement.

“We do pay church expenses but we give a great deal of it to missionary causes and some overseas. Buying mosquito nets for people in countries with mosquito or tsetse flies. Yes, it’s quite surprising how much this little place gives to all those causes.”

Kremer said they always welcome book donations and don’t have too many rules about what the thrift store accepts. She said they just ask for no encyclopedias (which take up a lot of room) or any “unsavoury” books.


Although their shelf is temporarily down — so you won’t be able to find any last-minute Christmas gifts there — the RBC Lake Cowichan branch also has a large secondhand book sale. It will return in the new year. Books are by donation, and the funds are used to support local community organizations like the Lake Cowichan Food Bank.

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