I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges once said “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” But for many people that “Paradise” is out of reach. These are folk who live in remote regions or who, for one reason or another, are not mobile. If they can’t get to a library, then the library comes to them.
The Donkey Library
Luis Soriano loves books. He comes from the small town of La Gloria in a remote area of Colombia. He was concerned that children had no access to books at home, so he decided to do something about that.
He created the Biblioburro. With his donkeys Alfa and Beto he takes books into the poverty-stricken communities that are in his region. He started out with 70 titles but word of the endeavour reached numerous authors who donated their books. His library swelled to 4,800 books.
Soriano has endured many hardships. He has had encounters with rebel militias and drug traffickers but they let him go because, in their minds, he had nothing worth stealing, only books.
Far worse was when he “suffered a major setback as Luis Soriano had to have one leg amputated due to an accident he suffered involving one of his donkeys” (laserrana.com).
The Biblioburro has grown. Soriano now has 20 employees and a bricks and mortar library in his home town. He receives government funding and help from a local non-governmental organization.
Of Camels and Elephants
Domesticated animals other than donkeys have been brought into service as mobile libraries.
Between 25 and 40 percent of Mongolia’s population of three million are nomadic herders. According to The Trumpet, when the country abandonned communism in the early 1990s “organizations focused on children’s literature fared badly. They were viewed as profitless, so no private investors wanted to take them over. Most children’s libraries were converted into banks.”
So, children’s author Dashdondog Jamba decided to take action. He began loading children’s books onto the back of a camel and trekking out into the steppe to find his readers. By 2014, he reckoned he’d travelled 20,000 miles (32,000 km) with his mobile library.
The entire project is self-financed, using money he earns from his own books and translating the works of other children’s authors into Mongolian.
There are camel-borne libraries elsewhere in the world, such as Africa.
Mobile Elephant Libraries is an organization that takes books to children in Laos. The group describes a delightful scene on its website: “Amidst a sea of small awe-filled faces, an extended trunk presents each child with a storybook. The gift of knowledge is reciprocated by tiny hands offering the elephant pieces of sugarcane, bananas, and bamboo leaves …” You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by such an image.
By loading up to 150 kg of books onto retired logging elephants, the mobile libraries are able to reach remote locations.
Early Mobile Libraries
Early mobile libraries started on wheels.
In the middle of the 19th century, the first mobile libraries appeared in Victorian Britain. Warrington, near Liverpool in England, got its Perambulating Library under way in 1858.
The horse-drawn wagon aimed to visit “every door in Warrington,” and it was an immediate success, creating a threefold increase in lending rates in just one year.
It was funded by the Mechanics Institute, an organization that was set up to deliver education to adult working people. Other towns and cities soon had their own mobile libraries.
In the United States, Librarian Mary Titcomb heard about Britain’s travelling book lenders and decided to set up her own in Maryland. At the time, the “library” consisted of collections of about 50 books placed in post offices and store. The horse-drawn book wagon reached a much wider audience.
Travelling libraries started out with horse power and today, many innovative methods of getting books to people exist.
Logos Hope is the world’s largest floating library. It is operated by a German charity called GBA Ships; the initials stand for “Gute Bücher für Alle,” which means “Good Books for All” in English.
The Logos Hope travels around the world with a volunteer crew. It has a bookstore and library that both focus on Christian writing and its staff get involved in development projects such as housing.
In 2016, marineinsight.com noted that “The MV Logos ship has in its seven years of existence visited around 158 countries and has till now benefited over 40 million people.”
A more modest endeavour is Epos, an 85-foot long boat that carries 6,000 books to people living on isolated islands and in fjords on Norway’s coast. The library’s website notes that “Epos sails from September to April, the period being split into two tours. Each tour, lasting for 45 days … and the visits count about 150 small communities.” In the summer, the boat is reconfigured to carry tourists through spectacular fjords.
Street Books is an initiative aimed at bringing books to homeless people in the United States. Founded by Laura Moulton in Portland, Oregon in 2011, the bicycle-powered service reaches out to those who can’t get a library card because they have no permanent address.
“Weapons of Mass Instruction” is the name given to a mobile library in Argentina. Built on a 1979 Ford Falcon and decked out to look a bit like a tank, the library carries about 900 books.
Antonio La Cava spent 42 years teaching and wanted something to do in his retirement. So, he bought a second-hand three-wheeled motorcycle and converted it into Il Bibliomotocarro in Italy. He drives his library around villages in Southern Italy.
“I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.”
- “Warrington’s Libraries.” Warrington History Society, September 18, 2016.
- “Luis Soriano’s Biblioburro – The Donkey Library of Colombia.” Laserrana.com, 2013.
- “The Camelback Library.” Jeremiah Jacques, The Trumpet, November 2014.
- “Mobile Elephant Libraries.” ElefantAsia.org, undated.
- “MV Logos Ship: The World’s Largest Floating Book Store-Cum-Library.” Marineinsight.com, July 20, 2016.
- “The Library Boat.” Bokbåten Epos, undated.
- “Get on Board with These 9 Mobile Libraries.” Muriel Vega, Treehugger, April 12, 2016.
© 2019 Rupert Taylor
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 15, 2019:
The history of getting library books to people in the most remote places is s interesting. This a very interesting article.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 12, 2019:
Only yesterday I asked a Baptist minister friend if there would be books in heaven! Unfortunately one of the many downsides of economical pressure in the UK has been cut backs in library services, both mobile and fixed.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 12, 2019:
Great stories but this kind of made me sad. Instead of Biblioburros we have moblile Facebook. No one in my village is interested reading anymore; instead they just want to check their FB feed to see if anyone has posted something new;