What happens when you put out a neighbourhood "Fact Box" to collect interesting tidbits?
Did you know that a deaf athlete invented the football huddle?
Shari Kasman did not until someone scrawled that tidbit on a piece of paper and left it in the cardboard box she puts in front of her Bloordale Village house.
“That’s the kind of fact I want: something I didn’t know,” she says, “Obscure facts are good. If I’m learning something interesting, I think that’s great.”
This “Fact Box,” as Kasman calls it, forms the basis of a knowledge-sharing experiment that spawned when she decided to offload unwanted books from her collection.
For Kasman, a lover of books, the idea of just leaving them out by the curb like garbage seemed wrong. Equally unappealing was the thought of lugging them from her house on St. Clarens Avenue to the Salvation Army, or zoinks! on Bloor Street West.
So the artist and writer devised the fact box, which encourages passersby to deposit a fact using a pad of paper and pen provided in exchange for a book.
“I thought it would be interesting to leave books out and collect facts,” she says. “Swapping books for facts is interesting because they contain information and facts are information.”
It was win-win: Kasman could keep learning and declutter her home at the same time.
Her plan is working, albeit slowly. Since mid-October, she’s put the box outside about a half a dozen times, and along the way she’s been able to find new homes for 10 books. She’s also received 30 facts—sort of.
Early on, it became clear people needed some guidance as to what constitutes a fact.
Kasman’s maiden fact-box attempt in October—which offered plant pots instead books because she was still warming up to the idea of leaving literature outside—did solicit a response. But not the kind she really wanted.
“Plant a large tree to make St. Clarens an avenue once more, and neighbours like you make Toronto great!” it read.
Sure, Kasman likes to think she makes Toronto great, she says, but she also realizes that what she received is not, by definition, a fact. “It’s a suggestion or advice followed by an opinion, basically.”
To make things clear for contributors, she began adding more descriptive directions than her initial “fact hole, insert a fact” prompt.
Colourful signs have sprouted up around the box like officious flowers. “Leave a good, interesting fact,” one commands. Another bears the Webster’s Dictionary definition of a fact: “A thing known to be true.”
Even this textbook approach, she learned, is somewhat open to interpretation, for Kasman received a confessional note from a man saying he loved his family.
“It’s a fact to that specific person,” says Kasman after mulling it over. “It’s not like a global fact.”
Some people do appear to be getting the message, though; Kasman has received a number of facts of the sort she’s looking for.
That doesn’t mean she is willing to share them all, at least not yet. She has bigger plans for them. “If I have enough facts then I would compile them and make a fact book,” Kasman says.
Although she wants more facts, Kasman asked Torontoist not to publish her exact address. “I want a little bit of mystery,” she adds.