Word on the Street

Where are the world's most interesting libraries?

Colombia's Biblioburro via Diana Arias/WikiCommons

Colombia's Biblioburro via Diana Arias/WikiCommons

Some time ago, we reported on a tiny phone booth library located in Somerset, England. We even pondered whether it may be the world’s smallest. But it seems the field is thicker with competition than one might first think. In the US, Portland writers and ‘Street Librarians’ Laura Moulton and Sue Zalokar run Street Books, a library run from a bicycle (well, it’s really a tricycle) in various city locations. And in La Gloria, Colombia, Luis Soriano’s Biblioburro travels on the backs of two donkeys — charmingly named Alfa and Beto.

Clearly, the Americas do well in this game, boasting the Little Free Library project (now spreading worldwide) and the Corner Libraries. But they’re also home to the library that was not only compact, but compacted. The ‘People’s Library’ that emerged in New York’s Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations was raided and dismantled after dark, its 5,000 books apparently sacrificed to the dumpster, prompting the Twitter hashtag #BloombergBibliocide and a tweeted reprimand from Salman Rushdie. It’s now smaller by necessity, its remaining volumes transported by laundry cart.

Moving away from the (small) space race, the variety of unusual libraries on offer around the world is equally compelling. The Department of Libraries, Archives and Museums of Chile has installed libraries in metro stations around Santiago, as well as Bibliotrenes (book trains) located in two city parks. Not to be outdone, Japan’s Akishima Library in western Tokyo is run from a converted ‘0 series’ Shinkansen bullet train, whilst Bangkok’s street children have also borrowed books from a train since 1999, profiled in the documentary Children of the Trains.

High design stakes its claim on the library too. The Netherlands' BiebBus is an expanding mobile library designed by architect Jord den Hollander and hosts over 7,000 books along a 100-metre bookshelf. But the coolest feature may not be its selection of books; the trailer’s two rooms can slide one over the other, with a transparent window between them. Elsewhere, Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Library is a handsome backlit bookshelf built in a shallow garage located on a busy thoroughfare.

At a build cost of €300, the less extravagant Otets Paisiy public library in Bulgaria may not dazzle the eye in quite the same way, but takes resourceful advantage of a disused trolleycar in the town of Plovdiv.

Finally, closer to home, the Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library has already opened branches in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with plans to make books available to the homeless and marginalised in other cities around Australia soon.

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