Taking reading public

The ways we access information may be evolving, but books still have a powerful hold on us, as much for their ability to bring people together as for the knowledge they hold. The following projects offer a snapshot of the creative ways that libraries and citizens are adapting to our on-the-go culture and using books to enrich our communities.

Madrid-based Bibliometro, a spin-off of the city’s library system, makes books available to commuters through stands located in about a dozen metro stations throughout the city. Passengers can borrow and return titles as they travel about, from station to station. According to Paredes Pedrosa architects, which designed the sleek lending pavilions, the goal of Bibliometro is to “not only traffic culture across the subway of Madrid but also to make readable the journeys of millions of passengers a day.” The project was launched in 2005 and seems to have been inspired by a similar program that started in Santiago, Chile, 15 years ago.

Stockholm launched its first subway library in 2009, where travellers can also surf the Web and download audiobooks to mobile devices. One of them, at Högdalen station, even has a children’s room and a café.

Based on U.S. soil, The Uni Project aims to bring books to public spaces by using portable, modular structures to create temporary reading rooms. The people behind it also operate Street Lab, a Boston-based non-profit, which created a temporary storefront library in that city’s Chinatown in 2009. They’re aiming to launch the first “Uni” in New York this fall and then, in time, to roll out similar reading rooms in other places, such as farmers’ markets. (The Uni Project recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the construction of Uni NYC.) Sam Davol, co-director of Street Lab told Library Journal:

It's about going where people congregate in order to accomplish what libraries accomplish. It's about doing what librarians do, reordering and presenting information to people.

In Magdeburg, a 1,200-year-old city on the Elbe River in eastern Germany, an open-air library project has become a tool for urban renewal. In 2005, in a part of the city characterized by vacant factories and fallow land, residents used empty beer crates to create a model open-air library and filled it with books. That temporary project led to the construction, in 2009, of the Bookmark—a permanent outdoor library, greenspace, stage and café, incorporating part of a modernist façade that was salvaged from a nearby warehouse. The Bookmark is open 24-7 and operates on an honor system, so due dates and fees for borrowing are nonexistent.

In an age when books are going digital, and information can be shared with others so easily, quickly and cheaply, these projects may seem retrograde. But they’re proof that visiting places with books—no matter the size, location or form them take—is what really matters, because they help us fit learning into our daily lives.

Images: Coolboom (Bibliometro) and the Uni Project

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