There are so many weird and wonderful libraries across the world! From public libraries to school libraries, and from adult libraries to kid's libraries, there is a huge variety in the way that books are delivered. There are also many beautiful libraries, but this blog isn't about breath-taking libraries like Trinity College Library or the Library of El Escorial in Spain, and so many others. It's about the weird and the wonderful, and the extraordinary lengths some people go to in order to get books into the hands of readers.
The Donkey Libraries
Luis Soriano is a primary school teacher who runs the Biblioburro program in his spare time. He loads his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, full of books and then travels up to four hours each way to visit remote villages in rural Colombia. He reads to kids, helps them with homework, and loans them books from his mobile library. Occasionally, he encounters bandits, but it's never deterred him, and so far he's brought books to over four thousand kids who have little access to books.
The Camel Libraries
Rashid Farah, a librarian in the Kenyan National Library Service, started sending librarians across Kenya on camels to reach nomadic communities in order to raise the literacy levels in the North East province, which were at only fifteen percent. With no running water or electricity, schools had little chance of being able to afford any books. The camel bookmobile serves over 6,000 people, with books reaching children who are desperate for them.
In Argentina, Artist Raul Lemesoff took a 1979 Falcon tank (a tank which for many Argentines symbolises the dark days of the repressive military junta) and reconfigured it into a mobile library. He stocks around nine hundred books on it, and drives it to small towns and rural communities in the country. His Falcon is kept stocked with books by donations.
Retired Italian schoolteacher, Antonio La Cava, decided that after 42 years of teaching, he wanted to carry on spreading the love of reading to children. So he bought a second-hand Ape motorbike and modified it to create a library on wheels carrying at least 700 books. He's been travelling in his “Bibliomotocarro” ever since.
The Forest Libraries
In Berlin, dead trees were bolted together and cut with hollows covered with flaps to serve as bookshelves. The first Book Forest was installed in 2006, initially planned to stay in place for a year, but they have since multiplied and have now become a fixture in the city, with people bringing books and swapping them for books they haven't read. The Book Forest is open all hours and open to everyone.
Every year, between September and April, a book boat called Epos travels to over 250 Norwegian communities on islands in the fjords with 6,000 books and a couple of librarians. The service started in 1959, and it's paid for by the libraries of the three districts it serves.
The Beach LibraryHerman Kompernas built a library on the sandy beach of the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Albena and stocked it with over 2,500 books in 10 languages. Guests are invited to borrow the books (for free) and leave their own for others to read.
Little free libraries started in 2009 - according to Publishers Weekly there are now over 6,000 in forty different countries.
In the UK, de-commissioned red phone boxes, bought from BT for a pound, have been turned into book swap zones. So far there are over four hundred book phone boxes. In all, 2,400 phone boxes have been adopted for £1 for all sorts of uses – book exchanges, heart defibrillators, libraries, coffee bars, and even a pub.
The Vending Machine Libraries
I didn't know that book vending machines have been around since the 1930s. They've spread to train stations, busy streets, shopping malls, and across the world. In one district in Beijing over thirty per cent of books are borrowed through book vending machines.
The Bus Library
Brazilian bus conductor Antonio da Conceição Ferreira, 42, was inspired by his love of reading to create Culture on the Bus, transforming the bus he rides into a small library. He offers around 15 titles on a shelf inside the bus everyday and lends those books to passengers.
So you know how this blog is going to end, don't you?
The Fortress Libraries...
Sadly, in the UK the opposite is happening - we're either closing libraries or spending lots of money on turning our community libraries into under-stocked fortresses with no librarians and limited access for under 16s, who will have to be accompanied by an adult in order to get inside the new key-coded, locked buildings.
Go inside most libraries after school between 3pm and 6pm and you will find teenagers reading, looking at books, and doing their homework. I was one of those teens at one time. It's a terrible, terrible thing to deny access to libraries, to books, to the kids who want and need it most.