Mobile libraries occupy an interesting niche in the library world. Usually offering similar (though often smaller scale) services as a public library (though mobile school and special libraries do exist too) – mobile libraries are defined by their clients. If a community is unable to go to the library, mobile libraries exist to bring the library to the community. Mobile libraries are deployed for many reasons, sometimes:
- The population density of community is spread out in remote areas so it is more practical to have a library service that moves around.
- The community is less able to get around and visit the library – for example very young children or the elderly.
- They are used to help stretch tight library budgets – as the upkeep on a mobile unit can be less than maintenance for a full building.
- They are used for outreach programs – bringing the library out into the streets to capture new members.
Mobile libraries have been used for a long time – the earliest mobile library is credited to be the Warrington Perambulating Library, which was operating in England as early as 1858. Yet they are still quite common today. The IFLA Mobile Library Guidelines provide a useful summary of mobile libraries around the world, and includes guidelines for operating a mobile library as well as lots of examples of mobile libraries from around the world. It also helpfully points out that:
The term Mobile Library is mainly used by British/Australian librarians. They use it to describe a motorised vehicle carrying library material. Other countries call these variously Bookmobile, Bibliobus, Bucherbus, etc. This document uses the term in its broadest sense. Any library service that does not stay in one place is classed as a Mobile Library.
Books are by no means its only payload. The modern mobile library may carry DVDs, CDs, computers, pictures, maps, toys and leaflets as well as books. It will have facilities to download material onto disk and memory device. Motorised vehicles are not the only means of transport. Boats, trains, planes, motorcycles and various animals are used to provide a service. You could not really call the elephant library of Thailand a bibliobus.
As mentioned, mobile libraries can take many forms, and some particularly eye-catching examples include:
The Donkey Mobile Libraries in Ethiopia
The Digital Bookmobile in the USA
There’s also a particularly lovely list of mobile libraries over at the Ebook Friendly Blog.
We’d love you to share with us your experiences with mobile libraries. Tell us:
- Have you ever worked for a mobile library?
- What was it like working in a different place each day?
- Does your local area have a mobile library service?
- Have you ever used one? What did you like/not like about the service?