The Weirdest Libraries Around the World
Get your books from a phone booth, monastery, military tank, or camel
Working in a small community library involves a lot of smearing disinfectant on glitter-speckled toys in the children’s section, but you meet a bunch of people too. When not disinfecting, I used to help visitors track down texts, locate online resources, and sign up for mailing lists. There was always someone looking for a recommendation or another person eager to give one. Even kids got hyped up pointing out their favorite princesses or dragons on the pages of picture books. The best part of libraries are the people, and seeing how access to books and comfy seating can make them open up to one another made the toy wiping worth it.
Bookstores are great, especially the independent bookstores fighting the good fight against their online counterpart, but they aren’t always the most viable option for book lovers on a budget. What are you supposed to do when four books carry your total over $100? It’s hard to read when your electricity gets cut off for an overdue bill. That’s why I can’t recommend enough getting a card for your local library, and supporting library systems wherever you go.
To promote easy access to literature, here are a handful of fantastically unconventional book borrowing systems from around the world. Some grow from their surrounding communities. Others rely on trade-ins, donations, or customers, but each one has found its own unconventional approach to free reading.
The War Tank, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A Weapon of Mass Instruction, the modified 1979 Ford Falcon translates violence into literacy by transporting over 2,500 books to low-resource schools. Raul Lemesoff began this project as a way to both protest weapons and promote peaceful coexistence with other cultures.
Vending Libraries, Beijing, China
These vending machines take up the space of about three cars, and they don’t offer candy or soda. For 100 yuan (about $16) anyone can purchase a library card that grants them access to 20,000 books from hundreds of vending libraries throughout the city.
Rapana, Varna, Belgium
In a ploy to get kids to put down their phones, a young team of architects constructed the elaborate pavilion to serve as a street library. Gently curved with shaded benches along the interior, the distinctive sea snail shape is a callout to Varna as the marine capital of Belgium. The wooden shelving inside allows for a maximum capacity of about 1,500 books, but seeing as people love free libraries, those books never sit there long.
Horse-Powered Literacy, Ethiopia
The non-profit organization Ethiopia Reads dedicates itself to delivering books to even the most rural Ethiopian communities. With book carts pulled by horses and donkeys, storytellers follow pre-set circuits around various regions and gather crowds of book lovers wherever they stop.
Camel Library, Garissa, Kenya
The Kenya National Library Service takes a similar route to spreading literacy, but their vehicles of choice are the so-called “ships of the desert,” camels. Specially curated boxes travel to rural an nomadic schools bringing not only books but also tents and mats for on the spot classrooms.
Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, U.S.A.
The bank is a little of everything: archives, a gallery, a library, and a community center. Restored from a dilapidated condition back in 2015, the old bank hosts a number of workshops, talks, and tours for the public.
Admont Abbey, Admont, Austria
Holding the record of world’s largest monastery library, Admont Abbey is a massive European Baroque building from the late 18th century with beautiful frescoes that are well worth a walk through.
Little Free Library, everywhere
Micro libraries are appearing all over these days. The Little Free Library organization has now reached 85 countries with cute boxes that closer resemble bird houses that than libraries, and they are open for everyone.
Hammock Library, Muyinga, Malawi
Built as part of an inclusive school for deaf children, the Muyinga Library sits between two public squares and is designed with inspiration from Burundi architectural techniques. Though resources were short during its construction, the community was dedicated to creating an open space, both aesthetically and in terms of access. The massive hammock that lined the top floor only upped its appeal.
Fridge Library, Christchurch, New Zealand
Located on the corner of Kilmore and Barbadoes Streets, the Fridge Library stands in a miniature park, serving as a well loved book exchange for the area. Though the shelves can get messy, this fridge will always be filled with food for thought.
Beach Library, Albena, Bulgaria
Forgetting your beach read will never be a problem here. With over 6,000 books to browse in a variety of languages, the only thing guests lack is extra time to enjoy it all.
Phone Booth Libraries, Bramshaw, U.K.
Created by locals, the Bramshaw phone booth is a hot geocaching spot. Since no one really uses phone booths anymore, the booth was available for the Adopt a Kiosk program by British Telecom. Take out the phone equipment, add in some information pamphlets and literature, and there you have a book exchange.
Epos Library Ship, Norway
Floating between Hordaland and Møre og Romsdal, the Epos is a ship built for the sole purpose of serving as a floating library. The boat itself can hold about 6,000 books, but it lends out over 7,000 during its tours to 150 communities along the west coast.
Il Bibliomotocarro, Basilicata, Italy
With tune that attracts men, women, and children alike, it would be easy to mistake this vehicle for an ice cream truck, but its cargo is far more precious than that. The book car operates a travel library service that links the main towns of the Basilicata region to the isolated communities surrounding them.
The Garden Library, Tel Aviv, Israel
Set up for refugees and migrant workers, the library structures itself around the belief that books are a fundamental human right. In a neighborhood of asylum seekers, the Garden Library’s books offers an escape into literature and education.
Airport Cocoon Library, Baku, Azerbaijan
Flight delays would so much more tolerable if every airport had these wooden cocoon-like library found in Heydar Aliyev international airport. Take note, J.F.K.!
IKEA Reading Room, Wembley, U.K.
Fully furnished with purchasable IKEA retail, this reading room (only available from July 31 to August 5, 2018) was made to remind visitors how great it is to relax at home with a book. IKEA-goers could book an hour-long slot, choose between one of the 13 Man Booker Prize longlist finalists, and loiter around on couches they might even consider buying.
Bike Library, Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.A.
This full service traveling library is part of the Carnegie-Stout Public Library. With an easily traceable route and a schedule online, the bike pedals new releases, DVDs, and children’s books to various parks. No library card? No problem! The bike is equipped with all you need to apply for a card on the spot.
The Book Truck, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Even books can get involved in #vanlife. The Book Truck in Los Angeles makes it way to various schools and youth resource fairs to give away books in underserved communities. This traveling library found its calling in making sure every kid that wants a book has a book.
Wardrobe Library, New Castle, Australia
Any conveniently sized box can be repurposed into a library, but there is something about wardrobes that titillates the literary imagination. Whether it’s C.S. Lewis pulling you into Narnia or Jane Austen flitting through the cloaks before an evening soiree, there are untold depths to wardrobes that make them perfect houses for books.
Street Library Bench, Sonthofen, Germany
Books will always have your back, and in this case you can take that literally.
Secret Subway Library, New York, U.S.A.
A perfect place to snag a book before a long commute, this tiny library located underground by the turnstiles at the 51 St. stop on the 6 line is easily missed by passersby. The librarians on duty are always ready to loan a lost traveller a map or recommend a fun page turner.
Converted Bus-Stop Library, Jerusalem, Israel
Another library for readers on the go, the Bus-Stop Libraries in Jerusalem help commuters fill those empty minutes between transfers. You might be early or the bus might be late, but with these libraries you can pick up a quick read at one stop and drop it off at the next.