Different libraries around the world: mobile library

Photo: Warrington Perambulating Library - Public Domain image sourced from WikiCommons

Photo: Warrington Perambulating Library – Public Domain image sourced from WikiCommons

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?
Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2015A and tagged , , , , , .


  1. I think it would be very interesting to work for a mobile library. I used to make frequent use of the mobile library service provided to my suburb as a teenager. We were about a 30 minute drive out of town without a reliable public transport system and no car, so I loved the variety available with our mobile library that came out once a fortnight.

  2. So the last two posts are about my favorite types of libraries!

    I grew up in a very small village where the mobile library used to visit us every few weeks and until the age of 10-12 was the only point of communication with books besides textbooks. I still remember the little wagon and the shelfs full of books, only a few children able to get inside. One of my strongest memories is reading about nulear energy and its catastrophic consequences: I was a small child when Chernobyl happened and the pictures in that book gave me the shivers!

  3. Pingback: Books in the Midst of Violence: The Mobile Library | Study Abroad Exchange Tech

  4. In my time as a librarian I have had the opportunity to observe the function of our mobile library. I saw the joy on the children’s faces as they stepped onto the mobile library bus and greeted the familiar face that served them: how attentive they were at story time and disappointed when their time was over. The elderly, also, adore the mobile library as it brings them books, sometimes catered specifically to their tastes on request for those less mobile themselves. We are a wider spread community and having this service is invaluable for those who would otherwise not be able to enjoy the services of the library. It brought back such nostalgia for me, as well, as I remembered the days I used to be a child and our class would go onto the mobile library when it visited our school. There’s no denying that mobile libraries are amazing.

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