Content warning: This story deals with topics that may be distressing to readers.
Mixed among the books in libraries across London and Middlesex County, visitors might discover a piece of artwork meant to prompt reflection and education. These books, covered in Indigenous fabrics, have the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls printed on them in gold lettering, with invitations for visitors to follow a QR code to learn more.
The project, initiated by national non-profit The Canadian Library is being embraced by a number of library organizations across the city, including Western Libraries, in their efforts toward truth, reconciliation and decolonization and as a way to honour and build awareness of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The Canadian Library’s Micro Gallery Project is a community-engaged installation that includes over 6,000 hard-cover recycled books in more than 300 locations across Canada, including libraries, restaurants, retail spaces like IKEA, police departments, and non-profit organizations.
“Recognizing that reconciliation is an ongoing and shared commitment which requires all of us to be collectively responsible, we collaborated with local partners here in London to create spaces throughout the city to draw attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and children from across this region,” said Katya Pereyaslavska, Engagement and Outreach Librarian at Western.
At Western Libraries, the books have been dispersed around the five libraries on campus for visitors to discover. Last week, the books were brought together in a prominent display in Weldon alongside stories from The Canadian Library website.
The books also include links to the website so people who find them can search for the names and stories of the individuals featured there. Some books remain nameless to represent those that may never have a chance to tell their story.
Mary Lou Smoke is an Indigenous elder from the Anishinaabe, Lakota, and Mi’kmaq Nations. It has been more than two decades since her sister was murdered. Her sister’s name, Debbie Ann Sloss-Clarke, is one of the many embossed on the books.
“The missing and murdered Indigenous women are sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers and the best friends of many,” said Smoke. “It’s important to always remember them – their lives were taken away before they had a chance to share their special gifts in this beautiful life that we each have been blessed with. They must not be forgotten.”
The local initiative in London and Middlesex County includes a collaboration between eight libraries, each hosting their own micro galleries. The locations include Weldon Library, London Public Library’s Central Library, Beryl Ivey Library at Brescia University College, Huron University College Library, Cardinal Carter Library at King’s University College, the FIMS Graduate Library, Fanshawe College’s Learning Library Commons, and the Middlesex County Library’s Coldstream Branch.
“London is unique in the breadth of this collaboration with so many partners. They are going to be able to share with so many people,” said Shanta Sundarason, the founder of The Canadian Library. “It’s incredible to see them all come together in this way.”
All of the locations have been pinned on an interactive map developed with the help of the Geographic Information Systems team at Western Libraries. Those inspired to create their own micro gallery can also add their location to the map using the form on the site.
All of the books from across Canada will eventually be brought together in one permanent installation.
“You can’t walk past one of these books or a shelf full of them without stopping to look,” said Sundarason. “First and foremost, we wanted these art installations to encourage people to stop and take notice and ask questions. We have found that many people are going on to visit the website to read the stories and to learn more, so we feel we are achieving even more than what we set out to do.”