For over a century mobile libraries have been an important tool to spread the knowledge, library services, and meet the growing need for books.
A first bookmobile in the world was horse-drawn and operated in 1857 in Cumbria county in North West England. It was aimed to increase the lending of its books to enthusiastic local patrons.
Since that time the beautiful pictures of libraries on wheels populated our minds and memories. We associate them with passionate librarians, who, in many cases, came as a rescue to people who were eager to learn more and get smarter.
Wait, don’t get too nostalgic. Vehicles that offer access to books are definitely not something from the past. Just the opposite. The internet won’t kill the excitement when you see the books are coming to your neighborhood.
The vehicles listed in this article are not always bookmobiles in the strict sense. Sometimes they are mobile libraries you can check out books at. Sometimes they are book fairs or bookshops. And, eventually, you’ll find here vehicles that offer books at no charge.
No matter where and how they travel, these book vehicles have three things in common: passion, creativity, and determination of men who originate and operate them.
10 most extraordinary mobile libraries
1. Weapons of Mass Instruction
Catchy name (“Weapons of Mass Instruction”) and incredibly clever concept (books help turn destruction into something totally opposite) made this art car one of the biggest internet memes.
Many web users don’t know that this book tank is not just about stunning pictures. This is a working bookmobile, distributing free books on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Argentinian art-car maker and artist Raul Lemesoff used a frame of a 1979 Ford Falcon to create a tank-looking mobile library. The most important thing is that books are not fixed in the car’s body. They are inserted into a metal skeleton which serves as a bookcase.
Weapons of Mass Instruction is stocked with private-donation books. The most wonderful tank driver will pull over for anyone asking for a free book! Anyone against building an army of these?
BiebBus is a children’s mobile library from the Netherlands. Unlike in the US, Dutch streets are narrow, especially in densely populated areas. A typical American bookmobile truck with around 50 square meters of library space would be too big.
Architect Jord den Hollander came up with a clever solution. BiebBus is nothing more than a trolley that can expand – vertically. There are two rooms. One can slide over the other.
The bottom room is filled with shelves with 7,000 children’s books. Through the transparent ceiling you can see the upper room, which is a wonderful reading and playing area.
BiebBus has a total space of 52 square meters, and offers space for 30-45 kids.
3. The Floating Library
The Floating Library is a fascinating public art project run by Sarah Peters, an artist, writer, educator – and now the brave floating librarian. It’s a fully-fledged library on a custom-made wooden raft, with bookshelves on two sides.
This outstanding library, made out of passion, creativity and determination, can be seen during summers on Cedar Lake, Minneapolis.
It can be accessed by canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, or other small watercrafts. Swimming is also “possible but not recommended.”
4. Logos Hope
Logos Hope is also a floating library – the largest in the world. The vessel belongs to GBA Ships, a charity organization based in Germany (GBA means “Gute Bücher für Alle” – Good Books for All).
The ship travels around the world, promoting good literature and raising money for charity. On board you can visit a book fair, exhibiting over 7,000 books, ranging from education to technology, history, philosophy, art, and fiction.
Almost 500 crew and guests can be accommodated in 200 cabins. The ship is big enough to hold up to 1,000 visitors at any time.
So far, Logos Hope visited 75 ports in 47 countries and territories. Over 3.6 million guests visited the ship, and over 4 million books were bought in the ship’s bookstore.
5. Digital Bookmobile
Built on the long tradition of an automobile library, which for generations has engaged communities with library materials, this bookmobile is one of its kind. It’s the first bookless moving library in the world.
Powered by OverDrive, the leading global distributor of digital content among libraries, the Digital Bookmobile is raising awareness for ebook lending programs at libraries and schools.
Aboard the 74-foot-long traveling exhibit, there are five separate spaces, showcasing electronic books, audiobooks, as well as ebook reading devices.
The Digital Bookmobile has launched in the middle of 2008. Since that time more than 700 events were organized across the US and Canada. Your library and school can invite the vehicle, too. Find more details under the link below.
6. Tram Library
An old tram car was transformed into a lively color mobile library and a promotional tool for Jiří Mahen Library in Brno, Czech Republic.
The Library Tram travels every day on a 70 km route, teaching not only about library services, but, most importantly, about benefits of digital reading.
Visitors can scan QR codes with their mobile phones to access library’s website, search the catalog, and download free samples of selected ebooks.
This innovative mobile library 2.0 project is called “Library in the Tram – Tram to the Library” and was awarded first place in the 12th IFLA International Marketing Award 2014.
There are areas in the world where only one kind of the vehicle can reach. The one that emits pretty organic sounds.
Librarian and teacher Luis Soriano uses two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, to deliver books to remote villages in the central region of the Department of Magdalena, Colombia.
His extraordinary effort has drawn a huge worldwide attention. As The New York Times puts it:
He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia.
8. Donkey Mobile Libraries
These attention-catching donkey libraries are much less known, but as important for Ethiopia as Biblioburro for Colombia.
The project was born out of a simple discovery that there are a lot of donkeys in the rural regions of Ethiopia, opposite to books.
The first yellow mobile library started travelling in 2006, and now there are six of them, running a circuit from school to school and from village to village bringing books to eager children.
The donkey library is designed to exact specifications:
It must hold a treasure trove of books, have space to hold stools for seating, and contain a special compartment for food for the donkey.
9. Il Bibliomotocarro
Antonio La Cava is a retired schoolteacher from Ferrandina, Italy. After 42 years of teaching he asked himself what more he could do spread the love of reading among children.
In 2003 he bought a used Ape motorbike and heavily modified it to house 700 books.
Ever since he travels the Italian countryside, bringing books to villages in the region of Basilicata. The sound of an organ is announcing Il Bibliomotocarro’s arrival.
La Cava’s mission is to spread the love of reading, because:
A disinterest in reading often starts in schools where the technique is taught, but it’s not being accompanied by love. Reading should be a pleasure, not a duty.
10. Tell a Story
Tell a Story is a wonderfully stylish library on wheels that you can spot on the streets of Lisbon. The van is a part of the project offering Portuguese classic books translated into English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.
The man behind Tell a Story is Francisco Antolin. He turned a gorgeous 1975 Renault Estafette into one of most adorable postcards of the Portuguese literature.
The project was developed after Antolin and his friends realized how difficult it was to find translated editions of Portuguese literature to give to their foreign friends.
• • •
More posts about libraries to explore:
- Beijing’s new surrealist bookstore inspired by classical Chinese gardens
- Privacy and personalization in the library (infographic)
- What were the most challenged books of 2019? (report and infographic)
- 10 reasons librarians are more important than ever
- 10 most creative bookmobiles from around the world (infographic)