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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Take the Library to the People!

"You need to take the library to the people instead of waiting for the people to come to the library." 

You have heard that for years, but what have you done about it? If you haven't been moving toward that goal, then you're behind the times. Bookmobiles have been doing it for decades. And your website, or "virtual branch," does it in a way. But you'll increase your usage and visibility if you do something new or unexpected to physically deliver information and / or books to the public at their points of need. 

Many public libraries around the world are taking their resources out to the people in new and interesting ways, which brings lots of media coverage and increases circulation. Here's a  sampling of great projects to inspire you. They include libraries built where travellers are, libraries that move on four legs, and libraries on wheels.  

Schiphol's Airport Library had lots of
users when I saw it in September 2012.

* I must start in the Netherlands, because I think their innovation is beyond compare. You've probably already heard of the Airport Library that's in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. It holds books, videos, movies, music, art, and more in over 30 languages, and is meant to entertain and enlighten people about Dutch culture while they're waiting for flights in Schiphol, one of the world's busiest airports. You can read about it in Marketing Library Services or watch the project manager, Dick van Tol of ProBiblio (a service organization for Dutch libraries), talk about it on This Week In Libraries

Inside the Train Station Library (Stationsbibliotheek) there are lots of books on display, self-check-out stations, tea & coffee, reading tables, and more. Photo by Floris Porro.
* Last summer, ProBiblio did it again, this time with Europe's first library in a commuter train station in the city of Haarlem. The idea is so simple: Set up a lending library in a busy railway station and design it so that commuters can step inside, find a great book, self-check it quickly, and rush back out to meet their trains. ProBiblio did lots of research about commuters and the idea's feasibility, and it also did lots of publicity and promotion. You can read all about those details in MLS and you can watch a 3-minute video (spoken Dutch with English subtitles) report made in the library.

* Speaking of summer, libraries, and the Dutch: The Netherlands also has temporary Beach Libraries in the summer. Yes, you can borrow books, magazines, and newspapers right on the beach, whether you have a local library card or not. They simply trust you to return your materials. This travel blog explains it. Even OCLC has written about the beach libraries in a blog post on outreach.

* On a smaller scale, you've probably heard about the Biblioburro in Columbia, South America, which delivers books to very rural areas where no other library service exists. This has been around for many years. A children's book has been written about it. PBS has even made a documentary film about it

The Camel Mobile Library, photo from Masha Hamiliton's site.

* There are other four-legged book carriers too. The Camel Mobile Library has been travelling across Kenya for a long time, serving nomadic tribes and helping with literacy. There's a blog about it IFLA has written about it. There's even a book about it, along with video and some lovely photos here.  

Market vendors who spend hours in their booths can
 choose books from a shopping cart that librarians bring to them.
* You don't need a pack animal to deliver books. One of my favorites, for its simplicity and effectiveness, was the Reading at the Market in Lima, Peru. Here, library workers from the Municipalidad de Miraflores (Public Library) pushed a shopping cart around the market square. They talked to the vendors, gave them library cards, and loaned them books to read while their market stalls weren't busy. This project won one of IFLA's International Marketing Awards in 2007.

* Here's something that started in 2011: 

There's a bicycle-based library in Brazil that delivers books, wireless access, and programs around Sao Paulo, especially for the homeless. The "Bicicloteca" blog page is in Portuguese (it's worth translating and reading!). You can also read about it in English on the Global Voices site. In December 2011, the Bicicloteca was elected as "social project of the year" and has been widely recognized outside of its country. 

* I've posted here before about the very unique, repurposed army tank that its owner calls the "Weapon of Mass Instruction." He drives around  Buenos Aires, Argentina and gives free books to people It's quite a sight, which you can see on this YouTube video

* Here's my latest discovery: In Taipei, Taiwan, the city government has a "movable library" program that's put bookshelves in city buses. It provides books on 62 city buses, and according to an article from 11 January, it "plans to place public bookshelves in MRT stations, on MRT trains or at venues around public transportation sites." Borrowers keep books for a month, and can return them to any participating bus or any city library branch. Wonderfully convenient! 

A photo of a temporary Uni setup, from its Facebook page.

* Then there's The Uni Project, a portable reading room that moves around New York City. It consists of many cubes that can be transported easily and set up in various configurations, right on the street. It's "dedicated to expanding a culture of learning beyond the walls of schools and libraries and into public space" and is referred to as a "walk-up learning space." Very mobile indeed! 

This PPT is from Cathy Sanford's 2008 Calif. Library Assn.
 conference presentation. It shows the machine
 and how the library branded it.

* Finally, to bring this post full-circle, I'll refer back to "Library-a-Go-Go," the book-dispensing machine that Contra Costa County, California put into a commuter train station back in 2008. The project has expanded to serve a second train station and a shopping mall. Details are on its web page, which includes links to articles from both MLS and Library Journal.
I have also seen book-dispensing machines in Dutch train stations. 

So these are some of the "take the library out to the people" projects that I'm aware of. And some of them are not even officially run by libraries! I have covered trains, planes, buses, bicycles, beaches, streets, and deserts, including rural, suburban, and urban areas. I'm sure there are even more -- please share comments and links about other outreach that public libraries are doing outside their own walls. As you can see, nothing is impossible!


Natalia Arroyo said...
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Natalia Arroyo said...

In Santiago de Chile (Chile), MedellĂ­n (Colombia), Valencia (Spain) and Madrid (Spain) Bibliometro goes to the people traveling by subway. A user can borrow a book from any of the stations with a service point.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Thank you for telling us, Natalia. Those projects sound great!

I also had an email from someone who told me about "Library Live and on Tour," which is a woman called Smitty who drives around a brightly painted car around British Columbia, Canada. She "delivers the library" to homeless and underserved people in order to build community and literacy. Library Live (LiLi) carries ebook readers and other technology. There are pictures & videos at

Amy Ambler said...

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has an initiative called LYNCS: Libraries in Your Neighborhoods, Communities, and Schools that aims to take the library to the public.

Its first project was a service point in the busy Pittsburgh Public Market. Library users could get a library card, pick up books on reserve, use the Internet, and browse a small collection of materials at the same place they did their shopping.

As a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, I was part of the collaboration with LYNCS through my marketing class. Here is a press release about it:

Currently, LYNCS has closed the public market location and opened a pop-up library in another of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. Here is the LYNCS website:

marktkram said...

I'm studying libraryanship in my last semester in Cologne, Germany. A year ago, in my internship in Mannheim, I attended to a project called "The Bibliobike" (a library on a bike, especially for children).
You can watch a video on YouTube (sorry it's in German):
or you can take a look at my poster, which I presented at the lately BOBCATSSS-Conference in Ankara, Turkey:

This post was very interesting and helpful for me, because my bachelor thesis, which I'm currently writing, deals with alternative forms of outreaching libraries.

So maybe if anyone knows of new forms of contacting users outside of the library, please write a mail:


tIMOTHY said...

I am Timothy from Kenya where we have the Camel Library on the northern part of our country. I Congratulate Netherlands for their efforts in promoting reading during some involuntary leisure time. It offers people a great chance to best use their waiting time. Much appreciation to California for the book dispenser, I never thought this was possible....