A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Pop-Up Perfection: Staging a Pop-Up Library

by on September 26, 2016

It goes without saying that the key word in public libraries is “public.” Every day in a hundred different ways public libraries provide an endless variety of services and entertainment to every member of the community who comes through our doors. Yet the question remains how do we make nonusers aware of what we can offer them?

Effective library outreach is the answer. Outreach is often described as making our services available for nonusers or those who are typically underserved by the library.[1]  Making personal connections is an integral part of demystifying the public library experience. Even today people still need to see that we’re approachable and that we want to help them. We need to reach those people who only associate libraries with taking out books and show them everything else we offer. But how can we accomplish all that when funds are always limited and time is an ever dwindling commodity?

The pop-up library is rapidly becoming one of the best outreach methods there is. With a solid plan, some committed staff members, and a willingness to get creative you can put together an outreach event that promotes your library, reaches out to community members who really need your services and manages to excite patrons who have been visiting you for years.

What Is A Pop-Up Library?

The phrase ‘pop-up library’ covers a lot of ground. Many of us are familiar with the highly successful “Little Free Library” that allows libraries and other organizations to set up unmanned mini lending libraries in different areas of the community that anyone can make use of.[2] Traditional bookmobiles still exist and who can forget the inspiring “Biblioburro” begun by Luis Soriano in Colombia?[3]  But you don’t need to go quite that far to stage your own successful pop-up library. What really makes a successful pop-up is finding a way to make that personal connection between librarian and patron. If all you have are a folding table, a chair, and a librarian willing to spend time spreading the library’s message you have everything you need.

What Does a Pop-Up Librarian Need to Do?

The one thing a pop-up librarian needs to do well is talk about the library and do it with an enthusiasm and familiarity that will sell the library’s services and build excitement about visiting. Most people know that libraries are a terrific source for books and films but they may not know about eBooks, Freegal, or the new Makerspace you just started. Pop-up libraries can be a wonderful way to promote new services or underutilized ones to the people who need them most but don’t necessarily know you’ve got them.

Planning the Perfect Pop-Up

Planning is key to bringing off a successful pop-up library. While it’s true you don’t need much to stage one, you do need to devote time to working out the logistics. Who will  represent the library at your pop-up? Where will it take place? How long will shifts last? An ideal pop-up library should incorporate as many departments as possible. Make sure everyone involved is on the same page and is given an equal opportunity to highlight what they offer. If you can’t have a representative from every department see if it’s possible to have summaries of what they provide to hand out or have some talking points to share.

Location is a huge factor as you plan your pop-up. Go where the people are and make sure they know you’re coming. Pop-ups are all about positive, meaningful interactions so if it’s summer you may be heading to the local pool while cooler seasons may mean setting up shop at the homecoming game or outside a holiday bazaar.

Everyone Loves Free Stuff!

Even if it’s leftover bookmarks from the summer reading program, everyone loves a freebie. The sky really is the limit and giveaways don’t have to equal big spending on your part. Copies of your monthly newsletter, brochures highlighting library sponsored programs or classes, and applications for library cards are all excellent handouts that only require a printer and a little extra time. Get creative! If you’re staging your pop-up around the spring planting season see if your local supermarket will donate a few pallets of marigolds, hand them out to the first one hundred people who visit your pop-up, and set up a display of some of your best gardening books. If the holidays are on the horizon perhaps your Friends of the Library members would be interested in baking some cookies that can be sold to benefit a program or trip, while you show off some DIY gift-making books.

Come Out From Behind the Table

Spreading your library’s message and services can take many forms. Handing out information and discussing services with the public are terrific but don’t be afraid to take it to the next level and create something that will really make a lasting impression. Schedule a story-time for right after school in the local park. If your library has a writer’s group, see if they’d be willing to do a public reading. You can even have your staff come with their favorite books, give book talks, and provide reader’s advisory. If your Makerspace has a few Sphero’s to show off bring them out and show everyone what they can do! The key is leaving people with a feeling of excitement about their local library. If you can get at least one new patron to say “I had no idea I could do that at the library” you know you’ve made a success of your pop-up.

Pop-Up’s in Practice

Next month I’ll bring you some firsthand accounts of a successful pop-up library staged this past summer by my own library in Southampton, NY. It marked the first of what we hope will be many more. We had some growing pains but we learned a lot and I look forward to sharing it with all of you!


  1. Outreach Librarian. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://librarycareers.drupalgardens.com/content/outreach-librarian
  2. Build a Little Free Library Neighborhood. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from https://littlefreelibrary.org/
  3. Biblioburro: The Donkey Library. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/pov/biblioburro/


Tags: ,