Borrow a book from a tank and other unlikely places as libraries adapt to the digital age.

Until the mid-1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for books in European libraries to be chained to desks. These days, hushed halls around the world have been reinterpreted into more accessible spaces. Brick and mortar libraries hold listening parties, where people gather to enjoy audio books or music. Mobile libraries bring literature to communities that may not have easy access to books. And virtual libraries in train stations enable commuters to instantly peruse tomes on their smartphones.

With more platforms and less restrictions on borrowing, the written word is being shared like never before.

Books on wheels

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, artist Raul Lemesoff drives a mock tank around stocked with 900 titles. Anyone is welcome to take or borrow from his “weapon of mass instruction”, although to track it down you may need to first drop Lemesoff an email.

8 Unusual Libraries That Are Not Just About Books 5

A converted school bus called WOW (Words On Wheels; above) is parked at Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth, US, filled with everything from books on art and photography to magazines. Hang out and read inside, or take books home without having to return them.


Audio parties

Fans of fiction podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale” dress up as their favourite characters and listen to the latest eerie episodes together. Such parties are held at libraries across North America, including Houston’s Harris County Public Library.

8 Unusual Libraries That Are Not Just About Books 4

Across the world in a Tokyo library bar, let the combination of beer, prose and music work their magic. At Mori No Tosho Shitsu’s (Mori’s Library) “silent disco”, choose from 5,000 physical books and don a pair of headphones to hear tunes spun onsite by a DJ (above).


Virtual libraries

Step onto Line 4 of Beijing’s MTR subway system and use your smartphone to scan a QR code displayed on train carriage walls to download one of 10 books. The titles, ranging from classic literature to science fiction are changed every two months or so.

8 Unusual Libraries That Are Not Just About Books 3

Use your phone in a similar manner at the ornate platforms of the Moscow Metro system (above) to download the best of Russian literature. Devour tomes by authors like Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy and enjoy them on your ride.

Unusual libraries

Perhaps the most exciting and widespread development of the last few years has been the emergence of Little Free Libraries. Thousands have sprung up around the world from Germany to Afghanistan. Most comprise wooden boxes erected in front of people’s homes and are stocked with favourites and recommendations to borrow or exchange. In Britain, the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip is home to a micro library housed in one of the country’s iconic old red telephone boxes.

Vending machines, although the antithesis of the cosy, inviting lending library, are also helping to reach new readers. The town of Norman, Oklahoma boasts a $200,000 state-of-the-art machine that dispenses books, DVDs and even audiobooks 24 hours a day. Self-service libraries are also proving hugely popular in China where they’re often to be found in train stations and shopping malls. There are now around 150 in Beijing alone.

This story first appeared in

Like this? Then listen to “human libraries” where storytellers share their experiences