A love of libraries: unusual little libraries around the world


In our ‘A love of libraries’ series we have discussed setting up and managing a school or classroom library and recommended activities for adults, teens and young learners. Last time we took a look at five famous libraries with rich online resources to inspire you. This time we turn towards unusual libraries which can be found in some of the most unexpected places throughout the world.

Free libraries, microlibraries and street libraries have become immensely popular over the last decade. The Little Free Library movement in the United States initiated a trend which has become standard by now. What are these libraries and why are they so important?

The importance of little libraries

When people creating little libraries, making books freely available for everyone, they start building communities. What’s more, they start supporting all sorts of people: keen readers in affluent districts of cities as well as the homeless or refugees. Apart from these extreme examples, everyone can find inspiration in these easy-access book spots. They represent sharing and equality by spreading stories and giving access to knowledge for free. Although more traditional libraries also support learning in communities, they are often seen as institutions. Some people can’t walk past their town library without going in, while others feel discouraged from entering it. This is why little libraries, apart from being fun places to happen upon, have a significant function as truly democratic places.

Our favourite examples

We have seen small libraries set up in old buses in villages, in telephone boxes and old mailboxes, in tiny sheds on Swedish islands, and at underground stations in boxes specifically designed for the purpose of the tiny library. These libraries were born as grassroots initiatives, usually created by teachers and librarians. We have collected five examples to amaze and inspire you.

1 The Little Free Library: the great network

Since the first Little Free Library in Wisconsin was set up in 2009, these book spots have become well-known all over the world. It’s an interesting fact that even the Little Free Library movement was inspired by a microlibrary set up in Portland, Oregon in 1996. Today you can see a map of the network of Little Free Libraries on the website of the movement.

Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA.
Photo credit: John Phelan. Wikimedia Commons.

2 The “Weapons of Mass Instruction”: a symbolic library

This car, aptly named “Weapons of Mass Instruction” (ndr. NOT destruction) was created by the Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff in 2003. You can read more about the creation and the journey of this car on the artist’s dedicated website: ARMA DE INSTRUCCIÓN MASIVA.

Arma de instrucción masiva, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo credit: Carlos Adampol Galindo from DF, México. Wikimedia Commons.

3 Book Swap Fridge and other book swap boxes: libraries for all

There are hundreds of great examples of inspiring people who have set up book swap boxes in their own areas. These people wanted to share their love of reading, some had simply so many books at home that they felt it was time to give to others. One of these examples can be found in Spring Creek, New Zealand. Spring Creek is only 8 kilometres north of Blenheim. Some people might find it hard to go to the library in Blenheim, so a couple decided to set up a tiny library on a street corner. They say that donations are always welcome, and if anyone would like to keep a book instead of bringing it back, they should bring a new book instead. You can read more about their fridge library here, and visit The Book Swap Fridge Spring Creek Facebook page here.

Book Swap Fridge Spring Creek. Photo credit: Book Swap Fridge Spring Creek Facebook page.

4 Mobile libraries: books on the go

Mobile libraries or bookmobiles are similar to the art project “Weapons of Mass Instruction”, and they come in several different shapes. Some of them are on camelback (Mongolia), some travel on donkeys (Colombia, Zimbabwe), while other libraries float on water. Of course these mobile libraries can travel in cars, vans or giant trucks.

These mobile libraries are probably one of the most powerful ways of spreading the love of reading: they go where they are most needed, to places where bookshops and library networks would not reach otherwise.

  • Read the story of the Biblioburro in Colombia here.

Biblioburro, traveling library in Colombia. Photo credit: Acción Visual/Diana Arias. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

5 The Garden Library: an inclusive place

The Garden Library is in Tel Aviv, Israel. Visiting their website, you will learn that it was founded in 2009 by ARTEAM, an interdisciplinary art NGO, in collaboration with Mesila, an aid and information centre for the foreign communities operated by Tel Aviv municipality. “The Garden Library was established based upon the belief that culture and education are basic human rights that bridge differences between communities and individuals, and that can affect lasting social change.”

If you’d like to read more about different kinds of libraries, we recommend the book Improbable Libraries – A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries by Alex Johnson (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

What can you do?

If you find these examples inspiring,  think about setting up a tiny library in your own school or hometown. If you decide to set one up in your school, talk to your colleagues first, and then involve the students in the project. You might already have something similar in your school. If not, then you can start one and spread the love of reading among your students and colleagues.

We would love to see examples of tiny libraries all over the world. If you see one or know the story of one, please send it to us!

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