The People’s Library, organized by the Occupy movement at Zuccotti Park, is just one famous example. With new iterations of book swaps, creative library concepts and artistic projects, people are underlining the importance of literature and–not least–the love of print.
The DIY-libraries that have been popping up around the globe lately need no complicated cataloguing systems or registration forms. Neighborhood residents drop off books and pick up others–it’s as simple as that. In 2008, Baufachfrau eV gave Berlin its first guerilla library with the beautifully crafted “Bücherwald”. Urban hacktivist Florian Rivieres constructed the simply designed Free Library in Paris in May 2012.
These micro-scale, user-cultivated and constantly-changing collections positively disrupt public space and demonstrate the fun of community empowerment. In the US, the volunteer run project, Little Free Library, aided in building more than 2,500 free book exchanges over the course of a decade by providing instruction kits and encouragement over their website. Its fans have expressed joy in revitalizing their neighborhoods and social environments through the lovingly customized, miniature book drop-offs.
In the spirit as these efforts, parasite book-sharing installations serve the same function without necessitating entirely new structures. Empty information points on buses and at bus stops in Hamburg and Haifa are repurposed as commuters exchange their books for others.
The transformation of abandoned pay phone booths into communal libraries is though, perhaps, the best known method. John Locke, architect and founder of the interventionist project DUB Department of Urban Betterment, is repurposing phone booths in New York City by filling their existing constructions while leaving the phones themselves untouched and fully operational.
Other innovators have chosen to combat the lack of mobility inherent in the traditional, stationary library building. They are looking to the past and reviving old, nomadic library forms. Books were once shipped to remote settlers or lighthouse operators by crate. Mobile libraries reached far-flung literature aficionados on mule-driven carts or drove into neighborhoods on library buses. In this tradition, El Biblioburro–started by primary school teacher Luis Soriano–has been transporting books by donkey to families in poor, Columbian villages since the 1980’s.
In Sao Paolo, Bicicloteca brings books to the homeless. Robson Mendonça, a 61-year-old librarian who used to live on the streets of São Paulo, operates the initiative on his customized bike: a creative and dynamic way to encourage reading amongst those who typically can’t show the required identification and proof of residence to check out books in a “normal” library.
Mexican architecture office Productora designed an airy, modern library aboard a Freightliner M2 20K truck. The A47 Mobile Library functions as a 20-square-meter cultural center, offering mobile space for workshops, book presentations and readings.
The art world, too, has contributed to the surge in book distribution and appreciation. In Argentina, artist Raul Lemesoff built “Weapon of Mass Instruction”: a portable art car library, designed to resemble a tank.
Barcelona-based artist collective Luzinterruptus literally illuminated the meaning of books: they collected thousands of old books, equipped them with little lamps and decorated the streets of New York’s D.U.M.B.O. neighborhood with them. Residents were invited to take them home and cycle these books back into use. The event, entitled “Literature versus traffic”, was repeated in Melbourne months later, where it also gathered a large, enthusiastic crowd.
This type of experimentation, whether artistically designed guerilla libraries or boxes of discarded books on a doorstep, shows us new models of public engagement, draws attention to important civic concerns and brings books back into everyday consciousness.
The library of the future is no longer bound to a specified location or a traditional structure, but it remains a place where information comes alive–a place to share imagination.
Header image by Productora