Where would we be without books? And even more so without the libraries and bookstores that stock them? Many places don’t even have access to those, so they benefit from some unique initiatives such as mobile libraries.
While some areas have brick-and-mortar libraries, there are one-of-a-kind libraries built in the middle of nowhere, built entirely out of glass like the architecture you’d expect in sci-fi flicks or even makeshift libraries that are built on the backs of camels!
This is a compilation of such weird, whacky and exotic libraries which have been enriching the lives of bookworms for centuries:
Graveyard library, Austria
Situated in the Austrian town of Krems on Der Donau, this library makes it to the top of the list due to the sad history behind it. A Jewish cemetery that was desecrated by Nazis, losing not only gravestones but also precious historical written records in the process, it was reconstructed as an open-air library by artists Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann and now boasts of a series of bookshelves with glass doors that house a rich collection of books in English, German and Hebrew on subjects ranging from Jewish philosophy and of course, death. It also houses a 42-meter long memorial dedicated to local victims who were murdered or displaced during the Holocaust.
Mechanical library, Beijing and Costa County in California
This library takes on the form of vending machines placed at public places such as malls, railway stations, and busy streets to encourage reading and literacy. The machines dispense not only books but also library cards to access your nearest library and were started in Beijing before gaining popularity in Costa County, California, where they have become an indispensable part of every bibliophile who lives and breathes to read! Hopefully, this book vending machine trend catches on.
Haskell free library, US-Canada Border
Opened in 1905, this library has not one but two entry points as it is built on the border separating the USA and Canada, with a black line cutting the floor diagonally to mark the border. The US entry point is accessible from Vermont in Derby Line, Caswell Avenue, while Canadians can access it from Stansead, Quebec, on Church Street. Don’t worry, you’ll be exempt from customs as long as you exit the way you entered. It also doubles as an opera house.
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
Constructed in 1996 to replace the old library that was too small, this library is actually a series of 22 storeyed structures shaped like open books, all built in a sunken forested courtyard and is also considered one of the largest in the world.
Bhadariya underground library, Rajasthan
Under the Thar desert, 16 feet underground, lies a library that houses 900,000 books, all encased within 562 glass shelves. Constructed by Harbash Singh Nirmal from Punjab (locally known as Bhadariya Maharaj), the books in this library were either lent to him by donors from across the globe or are from his own collection. The genres range from science to astrology, epics, history, dictionaries, and even atlases. The library, which was built under a temple in Bhadariya village in the Thar region, is now looked after by devotees and villagers.
Trinity College Long Room, Dublin, Ireland
Rumored to be the inspiration behind the Jedi Archives in Star Wars Episode II: Clone Wars, this is the oldest and largest library in Ireland and the largest single-chamber library in the world. It looks like it could go on forever and houses a collection of 200,000 volumes of the oldest and rarest books.
Abbey library of St. Gall, Switzerland
Attached to a church, this library is one of the oldest surviving libraries in Europe and dates back to 820 CE. It was recently renovated to accommodate beautiful Baroque, rococo style ceilings and intricate curved moldings, as well as wooden balconies that lend a timeless quality and charm to it. The smell of ancient parchment is in the air as it houses medieval literature, manuscripts, and other writings and also holds historical importance as the leading center for science and Western culture since the tenth century. Photography is strictly prohibited here, and users are advised to leave their cameras and smartphones in lockers at the entrance.
Books on bikes, USA
Volunteers ride around on bikes distributing free books and library cards to pedestrians. This service was initially begun by Pima county public library in Tucson, Arizona, but has since expanded to Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. What a cool initiative, eh?
Admont Abbey, Austria
What is it with places of worship doubling as libraries? This is the largest monastery-cum-library and is housed in a European baroque building dating to the 18th century. Apart from the books, the beautiful frescoes gracing it are also worth a glance.
Book forest/Bücherwald, Berlin, Germany
Neighborhood residents of Prenzlauer Berg line up to this mini kiosk on the tree-lined block to exchange old books and find something new to read. The kiosk was installed in 2006 and is still a big hit. It comprises of fallen tree trunks bolted together to resemble a cluster of trees in a forest and has 3-4 box shelves carved into the mimic trunk that are sheltered by heavy plastic flaps to protect the books enclosed within. The kiosk can hold up to 100 volumes, and readers can enjoy reading various genres from history to DIY and children’s literature in both English and German.
Vasconcelos Library, Mexico city
Inspired by the movie ‘Matrix’, this one-of-a-kind library is surrounded by a massive botanical garden. Its interior is even more massive (hence the alternate moniker ‘The Mega Bibliotheca’), and you are bound to be enamored by its futuristic look, with books housed on crystal shelves suspended in mid-air with giant whale bones hanging from the ceiling and also boasts of a 409,000 square feet space and the turquoise tinted glass floors and grid-like levels further add to the futuristic look. It houses 500,000 volumes.
Phone box libraries, Somerset
Back when their mobile library and treasured phone boxes were subject to a theft, the Parish council, along with residents of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset, got together to buy a new red phone box (costing just a pound) and converted it into a mobile library that is open around the clock. The phone box not only stocks books but also DVDs and CDs, and the residents have now expanded to 350 such phone box libraries due to generous donors.
Camel library, Kenya
The camels not only transport books to nomadic tribes where education and books are sparse but also mats and tents that can be used to start on the spot, open-air classrooms in rural areas. It was begun as an initiative in the 80s to encourage literacy, and there are plans to expand, although faced with a sparsity of male camels to help in the transportation process.
Epos Book Boat, Norway
From the months of September to April, this boat named Epos makes its way to islands of the fjords (lakes) of Norway, so 250 little communities can avail of reading facilities. It comes equipped with 60,000 books, librarians, and even a cook and other entertainers such as contortionists and clowns. In the summer, it doubles as a leisure cruise ferry. It was started in 1959 to cater to 3 counties and is still funded by the libraries of these three counties.
Arma de Instrucci on Masiva, Argentina
Who would’ve thought that a car that was preferred by the army, anti-Communist death squads, and the secret police would someday develop from a symbol of violence to one of education and progress? That is exactly what Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff set out to convey through his ‘peace project’- a Ford Falcon converted into a tank that stores up to 2500 books within its frame. Raul drives around the streets of Buenos Aires and small towns so that pedestrians can avail themselves of his mobile library. He also transports books to schools that don’t have well-stocked libraries and require an extra pair of helping hands…or rather an extra set of books.
This unique mobile library was started with Luis Sariano, a primary school teacher who wanted to provide some sort of employment to his two donkeys- Alfa and Beto so they wouldn’t have to laze around at home. With Alfa and Beto loaded with books that he collects over the years, Luis travels to villages in Colombia and loans reading material to children, reads to them, and even lends a helping hand to them with homework, being the doting teacher that he is. So far, he has succeeded in bringing smiles to around 4000 children and counting, ever since he established this service in the 90s. Now he hopes to build a permanent brick and mortar library to store the books so everyone can have access to them in his hometown of La Gloria.
I hope you found this compilation informative and fun to browse through. If you get a chance, do visit these stations of knowledge and mobile libraries. And please do share this post with your bookworm pals!