In today’s digital world, finding a book to read can be as easy as a one-click purchase to provide us with instant information — it’s easily at our fingertips. However, this wasn’t exactly the case before we had the internet. Libraries and book shops were readily available for those who lived nearby, but those who lived in remote areas had to find alternative ways to access information. For hundreds of years, libraries on wheels, or bookmobiles, have helped spread literacy and entertainment to people around the globe — and they still exist today!
The tradition of the bookmobile has its roots in 19th century Great Britain. This horse-drawn wagon traveled throughout eight different villages to help spread good literature to the people in these rural areas. This innovative idea gained popularity and took off, sprouting more bookmobiles all around the globe. Some are eye-catching tourist attractions, while others continue to serve those who don’t have easy access to the joy of books and the information they provide.
Whether a journey by car, bike or even donkey, these bookmobiles have a common goal of creating community and sharing the love of books.
1. Weapon of Mass Instruction
Known as the Weapon of Mass Instruction, this Argentinian bookmobile has been converted from a green 1979 Ford Falcon war tank and equipped with shelves to hold many books. This vehicle was most used by military members during Argentina’s dictatorship from 1976 to 1982.
But don’t let this fool you — artist Raul Lemesoff designed this bookmobile to protest violence and weapons. Lemesoff drives this bookmobile through the busy streets of Buenos Aires to interact with the public and often distributes books to the children in the rural communities of Argentina where there are very few schools.
His books are free, as long as you promise to read them. Transporting over 900 books around the city, this mobile library aims to bring the communities of Buenos Aires together through the shared love of reading and promoting peace through literature.
Have you ever heard of a bookmobile that expands? The BiebBus is a converted truck-container that travels from school to school in the Amsterdam region of the Netherlands. Den Hollander created this modern concept as an alternative to a full-time library, which was hard to finance in the area.
Since the streets are very narrow and densely populated, the bookmobile was built to expand upwards to be able to maximize as much space as possible. On the lower level, a more traditional “library” holds up to 7,000 books and also has computers. Looking up, a transparent ceiling leads into the expanded room that slides over to reveal a fun nook for kids to hang out and read. This space is decked out with bean bag chairs and a bird’s eye view of the city.
Up to 45 children at a time can enjoy this unique and entertaining space, and it’s conveniently close to their schools! Hollander successfully shows us how fun reading can be with this clever and interactive mobile library.
3. Tell a Story
Culture has no borders — this is an ideology that this innovative and vibrant bookmobile stands for. After realizing how hard it was to find Portuguese-based books in other languages, Francisco Antolin and two of his friends created Tell a Story to introduce classic Portuguese literature to international visitors. Since stories are a great way to understand culture, Tell a Story offers an outlet for foreigners to discover and learn about Portugal.
Converted from a vintage 1975 Renault Estafatte, Tell a Story houses many books that are translated into five different languages (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish) so people from anywhere can enjoy the experience this bookmobile has to offer. Since 2013, this mobile library has been traveling around the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, aiming to bring foreigners and locals together by sharing the love of books.
4. Library in the Tram
In a more modern take of the bookmobile, this Tram Library based in Brno, Czech Republic, travels 45 miles every day to not only promote the Jiri Mahen Library, but also the benefits of digital reading. While working with an advertising agency, librarian staff converted tram cars into an eye-catching visual statement to spread their idea.
This bookmobile reaches about 1,000 riders a day and allows its visitors to access thousands of QR codes and other information related to literature, such as book tips. Visitors can scan these codes with their phones to access the library’s website, search the catalog for reading materials and download free ebooks.
The Tram Library also targets its riders with demographic-specific information based on where they usually sit in the trams; strollers and children usually sit in the back and the elderly and disabled in the front. This modern mobile library has gained a lot of popularity on social media and in the Czech Republic and has in turn gotten its riders excited about reading and exploring what their local library has to offer.
5. The Digital Bookmobile
This US-based bookmobile coins itself as the high-tech update of traditional bookmobiles with a database containing at least 100,000 digital books. Started by Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, the Digital Bookmobile is an outreach program for public libraries and schools to promote their free digital collections of ebooks, audiobooks, streaming videos and magazines.
Using an app called Libby, users can access these resources with their digital library card. Once a book is downloaded from this bookmobile, it can be read or listened to from any device.
The database contains literature for all ages that ranges from best-sellers to children’s books. This 53-foot renovated toterhome travels across the entire United States and even parts of Canada. Their next 2020 tour is set to have 130 events in 27 states — including cities like San Antonio and Fort Meyers — as well as four Canadian provinces!
This teacher found a way to fight illiteracy and bring books to children in rural Colombia — by donkey! Although this bookmobile is not technically on wheels, it still shares the common goal of spreading the joy of books. Luis Soriano created Biblioburro out of concern that his students had no access to books at their homes.
The children in these rural communities of Magdalena often would fall behind in school due to the fact that their lack of book access prevented them from finishing their assignments. To even get to school, these kids are faced with traveling very long distances. To help solve this issue, Soriano set out on a mission to bring books to them.
Since the 1990s, Soriano has spread literature to more than 4,000 kids in these communities with the help of his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto. Holding up to 120 books at a time, this “bookmobile” program not only benefits the children but also helps their parents learn in the process to create more educated homes.
7. Beep Beep Books
In 2013, the powerful Typhoon Haiyan struck Cebu, a province in the Philippines. Schools and libraries were destroyed including all of the books inside. In response to this massive disaster, Marcie Dunham wanted to help by creating a bookmobile to get children and the schools affected back on their feet.
This brightly colored refurbished jeepney (the most popular form of transportation in the Philippines) collects new and used books and travels to these communities to provide “starter sets” of 100 books. These books are delivered by storytellers and teachers who have a goal of inspiring creativity and giving hope to the children who have lost everything.
Beep Beep Books thrives off of donations from local non-profits and other foundations, such as the Pandoo Foundation and It Matters Initiative. These foundations strive to bring new teaching methods, lessons and resources to these kids.
8. Mata Aksara
This unique bookmobile has its roots in the city of Jakarta, Indonesia. Bookstore owner Nuradi Indra Wijaya saw success from his one-room library, so he decided to create an extension of the library that could transport books to the more rural areas of the city.
A motorbike-powered vehicle was donated to Wijaya from the government after the 2010 Mount Merapi eruption and was repainted and turned into the bookmobile known as Mata Aksara. Traveling weekly to six different villages, Mata Aksara’s books help educate the surrounding villages that have limited access to resources.
One village asked for plant breeding and organic farming books, which taught them to swap out chemical pesticides for organic ones for farming! Mata Aksara has also expanded into a treehouse, and in addition to the library, holds up to 4,000 books and educational games.
9. Words on Wheels
This bookmobile located in Fort Worth, Texas, thrives on the idea of Read, Relax, Repeat. Because several popular bookstores were closing their doors in the area, founder Tina Stovall wanted to create an alternative and easy way for people to still be able to access books.
Words on Wheels, established in 2011, is the perfect place to grab a book (for free!) and get your reading on. Traveling up and down Magnolia Avenue, you’ll easily be able to spot this reclaimed school bus, as it’s painted white with colorful WOW letters on the outside.
Step inside and you can experience the cozy environment — complete with hardwood floors, comfy couches and curtains for a homey touch. This bookmobile carries hundreds of books with a selection that’s constantly rotating — with genres ranging from romance to self-help books that you can keep for yourself.
10. Street Books
There always seems to be creative and funky ideas sprouting in Portland, Oregon — and its residents do love their books. This is the case for the small wooden box on a bike that attracts crowds on the city’s streets.
Laura Moulton, an artist, writer and resident of Portland, created Street Books, a bicycle-powered bookmobile to serve those who do not have a home and live outside. Using traditional library methods, patrons receive a Street Books library card (these don’t require identification) and fill out a form to check out a book for free.
Since June of 2011, this little blue box on wheels has given out thousands of books and has also seen a high return rate. This bookmobile carries all kinds of reading materials that many will love, such as poetry, history, memoirs and even old copies of The New Yorker. Those who live in tents, cars and on the streets are able to feel like part of the community and are given a chance to be entertained, or reconnect with stories they’ve read in the past.
Now that we’re living in a digital world, libraries and bookstores may feel like a thing of the past. However, these bookmobiles are able to break that barrier and offer an innovative and unique way to share literature and entertainment with anyone, anywhere.
If you want a new, out-of-the-box adventure idea, this is it! Check these funky bookmobiles off your bucket list and be sure to rent a car as you plan your trip to one of these destinations.