- Pop-up IKEA library at Sydney’s Bondi Beach
- The Mongolian Children’s Mobile Library, photographed by Jambyn Dashdondog/Mongolian Children’s Culture Foundation/Go Help
- Author Wade Davis’ home library in Washington DC., designed by architect Travis L. Price III, photographed by Ken Wyner
- The Library resort on Koh Samui, Thailand
- Artist Massimo Bartolini’s temporary installation Bookyard, 2012, in Ghent, photographed by Dirk Pauwels
Imagine a library high up in the Thai jungle, housed in an pod-like bamboo tree house. Or a floating library, located on a big ol’ boat. Or what about an endless stretch of bookshelves smack in the middle of a sandy beach, with a miscellany of books for the borrowing while you sunbathe? Fantastical though these may be, they’re all real-life places featured in Alex Johnson’s Improbable Libraries. Here, a few others from the book.
In more remote and underprivileged areas, mobile libraries are often more popular than traditional brick-and-mortar ones, which can be expensive to build… resulting in library mules in the mountain villages of Venezuela (bibliomulas), library donkeys in Colombia (biblioburros) and elephant libraries in Laos; the Mongolian Children’s Mobile Library, which serves the Gobi Desert, rests atop a camel. The phenomenon extends to the U.S., too. In the early 20th century, horse-drawn wagon bookmobiles traveled throughout the then-rural areas of the country. Maryland’s Washington County Free Library had one, for example, that was painted bright red — a color change that happened after a farmer mistook the previously discreet wagon for a funeral hearse and turned it away.
En Plein Air
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Billy” bookshelf series in 2010, IKEA set up a pop-up library on Sydney’s Bondi Beach, and filled it with over 6,000 reads, which visitors could borrow or swap for one of their own books. But its endless outdoor bookshelf — the world’s largest at the time — pales compared to artist Massimo Bartolini’s 2012 Bookyard installation, which featured a dozen rows of expansive bookshelves in the vineyard of St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent, Belgium.
Home Away from Home
That aforementioned library in a tree house? It’s part of the Soneva Kiri resort in Koh Kood, Thailand, a sprawling beach resort about an hour away from Bangkok by plane. The massive bamboo pod includes a cinema, a kitchen and a slide (yes, a slide). Also in Thailand: The Library resort at Koh Samui, with a restaurant called — what else? — The Page.
And Just Plain… Home
Improbable Libraries spotlights unconventional personal libraries, too. For instance: a South Korean residence includes bookshelves inserted under each stair in a staircase; furniture designer Sallie Trout’s Jackalope Ranch in Austin, Texas, has a vertical home library — she accesses the books via a hanging Bosun’s chair, like the ones construction workers use — and author Wade Davis’ home library in Washington D.C. is built into a dome atop his office, accessible only by ladder. “The original idea I had,” explains designer Travis Price, “was to put the books that meant the most to him over his head at all times, floating, above and in his head as his own, very personal lyric.”
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Airport libraries — that’s nothing new, but Johnson notes a number of e-book libraries, among them one at Philadelphia International Airport. Libraries in subway stations? Check and check — Madrid, Spain, and Santiago, Chile, both have them. Bus stations? Yes — Tel Aviv’s Garden Library is situated near the city’s New Central Bus Station. São Paulo has a Bibliotaxi, founded by taxi driver Antônio Miranda. And there are boat libraries aplenty, from Norway’s Epos library to the Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha library boats in Bangladesh.
It’s Not the Size That Matters
Some of the world’s most curious libraries are also the smallest. Case in point: England’s community libraries that are tucked into phone booths. The Little Free Library movement, however, gets credit for this pint-sized spectacle with “Habitat for the Humanities” sprouting all over the world; as of June 2016, there were 40,000 such take-a-book-return-a-book libraries, some no bigger than a birdhouse. Discover all the out-of-the-box designs on Little Free Library’s Instagram here.
Did You Know?
According to a 2014 survey by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the UK, going to the library is a mood-booster equivalent to getting a £1,359 ($1,878, at the time) pay raise. “The survey,” Johnson writes, “which attempted to quantify how happy various different activities make us, showed that while dancing and swimming nearly always cheer us up, so does going to the library.” Here’s to book lovers, everywhere…