03 April 2012

Books Live! Unusual Libraries in Unexpected Places

After the last post, I found I needed a bit of reassurance that books aren't really going away. A few dozen Googles later, I see growing evidence for the theory that people still dig them--in hard copy, with covers, paper and spines. Books have been reasserting their presence in all kinds of unexpected places, and in "micro libraries" designed to not only keep us all reading, but to develop community among neighbors. Here are just a few examples.

This one blew me away. On Feb. 2, 2010, IKEA set up 30 bookcases on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. I guess it's obvious why they can't be a permanent fixture. But a joy to see the Aussie surfer dudes, perhaps a bit more literate than their American counterparts?
Then we travel to another fine city: Amsterdam, where the Schiphol airport has installed the world's second airport library (the first is in Nashville, TN, US). Slick, spacious, multilingual and free, it makes me want to run right over to Holland and embrace sleek European modernity.

From here, we go to Chile, which encourages literacy in some unique ways, including the Bibliometro libraries in subway stations, and the Biblio Trenes, repurposed train cars housing libraries. One of them even has a groovy mural (below).

Still in South America, we head north to La Gloria, Colombia, where Luis Soriano tricks out burros Alfa and Beto with books for kids who have none in their homes. Since the late 1990s, his traveling donkey librarians have been trekking along Colombia's Caribbean shore, delivering a rotating selection from the library's 4,800 donated volumes. Soriano's work with his Biblioburros has been featured on PBS' POV series.

 And then there are those with much greater access to books: New Yorkers. Who nevertheless have been suckers for architect John Locke's reappropriations of phone booths, which previously were just sitting around lonely and cold, proving to children the once desperate existence we lived in the hideous era before cell phones.

Of course, in Great Britain, phone booths look a whole lot more quaint...this one from the town of Westbury, Wiltshire, developed as the result of a contest for ideas to revive the mouldering old box. In 2009 Brits gathered together--at a tea party, naturally (Sarah Palin not invited)--and settled on the country's most diminutive library.

"Well, I'll be knackered. Pip pip and cheerio! It's a wee library. Get mum a phone book, luv! "

Swimming back across the pond (and a few miles inland), we come to Madison, WI, home to the Little Free Library movement, which has become a mini sensation all over town. Outside their homes, folks post small boxes  (sold in local shops), filling them with volumes for passersby to borrow or trade. One project has been to construct libraries out of old Eatmore Cranberry crates, found in the nearby Amish countryside. Ultimately, they aspire to build more than 2,500 micro libraries all over the world. More info: littlefreelibrary.org.

Last but not least, we ride our vintage Schwinn cruiser to Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Corner Library. Artist Colin McMullan designed this replica of a classic public library, which stays open to cardholders 24/7. It's fully functional, including donated graphic novels, zines, pamphlets, and books published by small presses and artists, plus CDs, DVDs, maps, etc. More of the popular, doghouse-sized bookeries are in the works.


Alma Flor Ada said...

Thanks for this wonderful display of original ways to facilitate what I like to call the "magical encounter" between readers and books. All best wishes to every book lover who reads this blog.

Emily said...

Where do you find the photos of the Biblio Trenes? I've tried Googling it, but I keep coming back to your blog. (Great for you, not very helpful for me!)

Thanks :)

Heidi Utz said...

Hi Emily, There's not much out there in English, and it's hard to remember exactly where this came from. But I would try searching on something like "Biblio tren Chile."

Laura said...

Fascinating little libraries. I found your blog while looking for unusual libraries to write about for MY library's blog. One question, though - I'm not so sure American surfers don't read. I feel like we'd have to test that with a book case on an American beach. Or a few American beaches. Anyone want to try that?