The Most Creative and Unique Bookmobiles from Around the World
We all know how impactful our first experience in a library was, but there’s something extra magical about a library on wheels that comes to you. I remember the pastel-blue bus pulling into the parking lot of my day care and, later, my summer school, and my excitement never waned, no matter how old I got. Bookmobile Day was my favorite, so much so that the librarian had to begin capping the number of books I could check out at one time after an ill-fated attempt to take the entirety of the Baby-Sitters Club series home in one visit.
The American Library Association’s National Library Week, taking place this year from April 23–29, will celebrate National Bookmobile Day on Wednesday, April 26. Bookmobiles have a much longer history than one might think — from one of the earliest on record in 1859 in England to the packhorse librarians of rural Appalachia delivering library books on horseback in the 1930s — traveling libraries have been an essential part of the global reading culture for centuries.
But rather than the standard buses or vans that many of us associate with bookmobiles, there are tons of unique and exciting bookmobiles around the world that break the traditional mold. Sometimes, buses are simply too big or too expensive. Sometimes, it’s not right for a community, and the citizens know their town needs something different. Let’s take a look at some of the world’s most unique bookmobiles.
In Colombia, Luis Soriano travels with his two donkeys on El Biblioburro (The Traveling Donkey) to deliver books to residents in Colombia’s rural-most towns.
BiebBus is a bookmobile made from a shipping container that travels to local schools in the Netherlands. In the rural areas, a large bus would not fit down many smaller roads, so this expanding design allows for it to fit in small spaces while still being large enough inside for more than 7,000 books, plus a second-floor reading room.
A retired schoolteacher in Italy named Antonio La Cava drives his tiny-house-shaped bookmobile, Il Bibliomotocarro, around to remote villages in Italy to spread reading access to those who don’t have it.
The Swedish bokbȧten is a bookmobile on the water — a boat funded by the Regional Library of Stockholm that travels to underserved and rural communities, bringing books on a boat. Norway also has a book boat, Epos, that delivers books by water.
The Athena Public Library in Oregon has a different method for getting books around the community — book bikes! After struggling to serve the community during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, library director Kristin Williams realized they could bring the books outside to the community. In the summer of 2021, they did just that, and a book bike now travels to different public locations for patrons to check out books.
In fact, there are many library book bikes all across the world, as these portable containers attached to bicycles are easy ways to get a hefty amount of books out to new locations.
In Turkey, sanitation workers saw how many books were being discarded as trash and began taking them home to spread them among family and friends. But their efforts were soon noticed, and popularity exploded, so much so that they needed their own bookmobile. Created out of a garbage truck, this bookmobile now houses more than 2,000 books — but they have a collection of more than 9,000 books waiting to be sorted and distributed. Turkey does have a public library system, but there is only one library per 70,000 citizens, so a mobile library has added a way for more books to reach more readers.
Reading is integral to building community, and whether it’s by bike, boat, or bus, librarians and citizens will figure out a way to get books to readers — no matter what!