‘A book should be used and reused, it has a life, it has a message’


Improbable Libraries:  a visual journey to the world’s most unusual libraries

Alex Johnson, U. of Chicago Press 2015.

This book will cheer you up if you’re lamenting the demise of the traditional library.  Here are books in taxis, on subways, delivered on donkeys or camels, a library in a phone box, on a bike, on the footpath, in the middle of a lake, in a refrigerator. These libraries are often set up by an individual and then bloom, as in the case of the Brazilian taxi driver who started offering his passengers something to read. A big bookstore heard about it and donated thousands of books , so now they’re available in 50,000 taxis. You just return the book to the next taxi you take. Like many of these schemes, they are free and based on an honour system – and it works.

Then there’s the Bibliometro service in Chile, now the biggest library in the country, where you can borrow a book from any metro station and return it to any other. In New York there’s an app developed by students where posters in the metro display the covers of books. You rub your phone over the cover and the app tells you the nearest library where the book’s available. Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has a library integrated into the airport, with books displayed throughout the normal walkways. In Spain there are library shacks on the beaches. In the Philippines  there’s a pavement library set up by Hernandes in memory of his book-loving parents, which now has thousands of books from donations – and again all based on a honour system.

You have to swim or take a canoe to Sarah Peters’ library in the middle of Cedar Lake Minneapolis, but in Zimbabwe donkeys deliver books to far-flung areas and in Laos it’s elephants.

And those of us who love books will have no trouble accepting the findings of the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport in a 2014 survey – that going to a library gives an increase in happiness equivalent to a pay rise of £ 1500.

You can see these, and lots of other amazing libraries, in the 250 colour plates of Improbable Libraries and read interviews with the lateral thinkers who set them up.  A wonderful present for the booklover in your life.


7 thoughts on “‘A book should be used and reused, it has a life, it has a message’

  1. When we renovated our kitchen/dining/living room, I gave away 7 boxes of books I hadn’t read for at least 10 years. One box to a niece, 6 to the Randwick Library’s Books on the Beach. Feels good.

  2. Books are such wonderful treasures. The look and feel of them, and the remberances they bring to you of people, places and events that nothing can replace. Maybe I am just lucky that I grew up surrounded by books and they have always been my safety net as well as expanding my horizons.

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