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Library on wheels: North Van’s ‘Mr. C’ booking visits to Canyon Heights kids

April 30, 2020

by Kevin Griffin, Postmedia

If students can’t come to Canyon Heights elementary, then why not bring a bit of the school to students?

That’s what Ian Cunliffe, known as Mr. C to students, was thinking when the school’s librarian teacher had a brainwave to start delivering books to students.

He has set up a system to allow them to look online at most of the school’s ample library of almost 13,000 books. By email, they can choose a book or tell him what they’re interested in and he’ll put together a bundle for them to read.

The first delivery of Canyon Heights Bookmobile is Friday.

Cunliffe said the idea came to him when he was driving into work to get a book.

“I remembered the old West Vancouver Bookmobile,” Cunliffe said.

“I had this incredible sense of nostalgia. There is something really magical about a library showing up in your driveway. It brought some powerful memories back for me.”

Cunliffe has been at Canyon Heights, located north of Edgemont Village in North Vancouver, for seven years.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he recalled how fellow parents, teachers and educators wondered how they were going to manage the school’s closure.

He loved his library program, but realized that what he did wasn’t really about books. It was about making what he called “community connections with people.”

In addition to reading to students and getting them excited about books, he also runs other programs such as a chess club and math contest.

“I realized: ‘Oh, my goodness! How am I going to stay connected with my kids and my community if I can’t get them into the library?’ ”

Cunliffe’s book library isn’t like the big bookmobiles of yesterday that you could walk into and choose books. His is much smaller and runs out of the back of his Subaru and doesn’t allow visiting because of COVID-19 social distancing.

He’s written a FAQs page that includes safety protocols he follows. When a book is returned, for example, it will be “quarantined” in a bin for a week. Best evidence says the new coronavirus can live a maximum of 72 hours outside of the body.

“We go much further than that,” he said. “Time is the best disinfectant.”


You can see how appreciative people are about having someone show up and see how they’re doing and bring books that their kids will love,’ says ‘Mr. C’ Ian Cunliffe. Arlen Redekop / PNG

Since students found out about his bookmobile, he’s been flooded with requests. He now has more than two dozen.

The emails he’s received show him how important it is for people to keep connected with one another.

“You can see how appreciative people are about having someone show up and see how they’re doing and bring books that their kids will love,” Cunliffe said.

“It’s really about connection and maintaining this sense of community that we’re all in this together.”

One of the parents who admires Cunliffe is Kulvir Mann. Her son Saajin, a 12-year-old in Grade 7, is expecting a book delivery on Friday. She said Cunliffe is really important to “our school community.”

“He’s always done amazing, creative things at the school to engage kids,” said Mann, a North Vancouver School District trustee.

“This is a new thing that he’s come up with and it’s fantastic.”