Swimming in a Library*

If you’ve read Ian Sansom’s Israel Armstrong series, you’ll know that Armstrong is the librarian for Ireland’s Tumdrum and District region. What that amounts to in this very rural region is that he drives the mobile library, and, of course, delivers and picks up books. Some of his patrons really do live in the back of beyond, as the saying goes, and this is how they get their hands on books. Laurie Cass’ Bookmobile Cat mysteries feature Minnie Hamilton, who has charge of Chilson, Michigan’s bookmobile. She, too, makes books available in an innovative way. There are other mysteries, too, that feature mobile libraries, and it’s an interesting context. There are several possibilities for plots, and the small-town, rural, or remote setting can be very appealing.

The mobile library is a really effective way get books to people who may not live near a library, nor have easy transportation to one. In fact, the ‘photo you see at the left is of the bookmobile that serves part of the area where I live. It makes various stops at different places throughout the week, so that people who can’t get to one of our public libraries can still get books. There’s a twin-sister Spanish-language bookmobile in my area, too.

Of course, I live in a place with good roads and enough funds for a couple of bookmobiles. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at places where book lovers get their books in different ways. Some of these variations on the bookmobile theme are ingenious, and they make books accessible even for people who don’t live anywhere near a city or a suburb.

For example, this is a ‘donkey library’ in Ethiopia. It’s the brainchild of Ethiopia Reads founder Yohannes Gebregeorgis. Donkeys can travel on all sorts of roads that autos, vans, and so on can’t. So, the ‘donkey library’ is well-suited for a place where many people live remotely.

And here is Colombia’s own ‘Biblioburro’ library. Luis Soriano created this innovative approach to serving the reading needs of remote places in that country. Now, his two burros, Alfa and Beto (yes, those names are deliberately chosen) travel all over, making sure that people in rural areas can get books. Soriano’s been working on getting a permanent building for the library, but that project is still ‘in the works.’

Jambyn Dashdondog operates this children’s ‘camel library’ in Mongolia. Motor vehicles may have a difficult time getting around in the terrain of that area, but camels are tailor-made for the job. And that means that children who live in those remote places can get a chance to read books.


And then there’s this ‘horse library,’ the idea of Ridan Sururi. He and his horse, Luna, bring boxes of books around to some of the remote places on Java. The library patrons enjoy Luna’s company, and they love having books available. Sururi travels among villages, and also stops at area schools. He’s gotten his family involved in helping, too.

But of course, you don’t need to have a horse, a camel or a donkey to make books accessible to people. Many places now have ‘mini-libraries’ in trees, on boats, and so on. There’s even this ‘pop-up’ library on Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

What about you? Have you seen some really ingenious library ideas? Please feel free to share them. There are all sorts of innovative ways to connect book lovers with books! And, honestly, wouldn’t some of these places be really effective contexts for a mystery series?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Athlete’s In the Library.


Filed under Ian Sansom, Laurie Cass

28 responses to “Swimming in a Library*

  1. Col

    Where we lived when I was young, in a suburb of Luton we had a mobile library come around every couple of weeks. I don’t suppose it has been in operation for over 30 years now.
    At an old workplace they also had a book swap where you could leave a finished book and collect one someone else had read, all for a small donation. No camels or donkeys around our way!

    • Perhaps not, Col, but I really do like the idea of a book swap at work. It’s a great way to get your hands on books without taking a lot of time to look in shops and so on.

  2. Love this post Margot, thanks for sharing. I’ve often thought of putting a little box outside our house with my old books in it for people to swap. Not sure how the husband would feel about that one though 😉

    • Well, there is that, D.S.! I’ve thought it might be nice to have that sort of thing in my community, too. Hmm……Perhaps I ought to ask around and see what could be done! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. In the UK we have quite.a lot of no-longer-used phone boxes (booths in the US maybe?). I have seen a few of them turned into book exchanges, where people can drop books off or pick some up. a great idea all round. (Not mobile, but in the spirit of your ideas I think.)

    • Oh, very much in the spirit of what I had in mind with this post, Moira. It’s a great idea, too! There aren’t that many uses for such places any more as far as making calls goes – why not put them to a good purpose?

  4. I love the idea of books being brought to my door by donkey or camel – so much more fun than the usual van! It’s good to hear of so many dedicated people coming up with innovative ideas to get books out to more remote spots. 😀

    • You know, it would be fun to have a donkey or a camel bring books, wouldn’t it, FictionFan? I could really see that! I agree with you, too: I love it when creative, dedicated people find effective ways to solve problems. And making books accessible to people who live remotely is a challenge. I love it that people are taking that challenge up.

  5. mudpuddle

    wonderful pictures and places! the smallest swapem library i’ve seen was in Cathlamet, Wa. just a large mailbox with a sign…

    • Thanks, Mudpuddle. Glad you enjoyed the post. And I like the idea of a mailbox book swap. A library doesn’t have to be big to be really useful to the people who use it.

  6. We are very lucky to have a great library and we also have a mobile one that visits the elderly but no donkeys!

  7. Love this post, Margot! I have seen an image of a barge library somewhere, but forget where. When I was in Washington DC I saw several of the small personal box libraries in people’s gardens. They had signs telling people to take and leave books at will. I loved them and would always stop to photograph them. A great idea and very community minded. We stayed in an airbnb apartment so were in a residential area rather than a hotel area and I loved it.

    • Thanks, Rebecca – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. The barge library sounds really interesting. It’s actually ringing a faint bell, too, so I suspect I’ve seen something about it somewhere. And I really like the idea of those small box libraries, too. It’s a lovely way for people to share books. That’s one of the advantages, I think, of staying in a residential area; you do get to see the character of a place.

  8. kathy d

    I love all of these libraries, especially “books by burro.” Or by camel. What wonderful people must be doing this to bring books to children and adults.
    Here is a links to libraries on water in different countries. Tears came to my eyes seeing children in Laos reading on a boat. Their school is cancelled when the book boat comes to their towns. The looks of the children’s faces is priceless. https://ebookfriendly.com/bookshops-libraries-on-water/
    Gosh, if I were reinventing my life, I’d love to do this.

    • I think it’d wonderful to do, too, Kathy. And thanks for sharing this link, too. Folks, do check it out. It’s such a great example of the difference that books and libraries can make. And I agree: people who do this – who make books available in remote places – are fantastic.

  9. Love all the ways people find to share books. I remember a bookmobile in the community where I grew up. I don’t think they have it anymore and that’s a shame. I like the idea of sharing books in any way we can. Great post, Margot.

    • Thanks, Mason – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And I’m also glad you had had access to a bookmobile, too. I think bookmobiles are a really excellent option to make libraries available to those who might not otherwise find it easy to get books.

  10. What a fabulous post, Margot! I love hearing about the ingenious ways that people find of getting books to readers. There also are those book trollies that go round hospital wards.

    • I love those trollies, too, Christine – I think they’re great. And I agree; people have developed some absolutely amazing ways to get books to people. Thanks for the kind words – glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. tracybham

    This is a lovely post, Margot. There is an organization called Little Free Libraries where people put up a small box with books they are willing to give away. There was one in Santa Barbara near the beach that was built to look like the small historic building that it was next to.

    • Thank you, Tracy. And thanks for sharing the information about the Little Free Libraries. I love it that people are willing to make books available to others that way. And the one in Santa Barbara sounds beautiful.

  12. kathy d

    I would like if it a book-sharing mini-library were around my corner. I would leave many books there. I do sometimes leave stacks of books on a sidewalk for people to take or in my lobby. Used to give books to the library, but they don’t take them any more.

    • I love it, Kathy! The more easily available books are for people, the better, in my opinion. And leaving books where people can easily get them means that even those who can’t pay for books don’t have to feel any shame when they take one. I like that.

  13. kathy d

    My mother’s art books will end up either on the sidewalk for people to take or at Housing Works, which is a resale store which raises money for people with HIV and AIDS.

  14. A wonderful post Margot 😊

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