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Turning Public Transportation into Mobile Libraries

by on May 26, 2017

The bookcrossing movement is growing globally with the Books On The Move campaign. Bookcrossing is the practice of leaving books in public places to be picked up and read by others, who then do the same. Many communities already take part in this movement with Little Free Library community book-exchanges, however, the newest trend is leaving books on public transportation. This initiative has created mobile libraries for numerous communities to enjoy.

The original campaign called Books On The Underground started in London in 2012 by Hollie Fraser. She started out by leaving her personal copies of books behind for fellow readers, but soon found authors and publishers willing to give her duplicate titles for her movement. Just a year later, Rosy Kehdi reached out to Fraser to start a campaign in New York City called Books On The Subway. Since then Fraser and Kehdi have spread the movement to many other locations in Europe, Australia, Canada and  major cities in the U.S. like Washington, D.C. and Denver. Even celebrities like Emma Watson and Anna Kendrick have gotten involved in the initiative by hiding copies of their favorite books.

The newest campaign, Books On The T, started in Boston this spring on the area’s public commuter train and bus system. The movement will engage the community, encourage excitement about reading, and bring more literature into Bostonians’ lives. The founders Catherine Gaggioli, Judy Gelman, and Araceli Hintermeister plan to work with local publishers to highlight the Boston literary community by using books with local settings, authors, and topics of interest to local readers. They want to also include books by authors  in the Boston area on book tours.

Gaggioli said, “I think these projects are a celebration of the fact that people still love reading. These community projects are just like recommending a book to a friend, except the friend is the entire city.”

The program uses volunteers known as “book fairies” to deliver the reading material. They then hide the reading material in visible nook and crannies at various Boston stations. Each book has a distinctive sticker on the cover stating to take the book, read it, and then bring it back for others to enjoy. The book fairies use social media with the hashtag #BooksOnTheT to promote the location of the hidden treasures. The founders hope people who find the books will also post photos with the hashtag on social media to help increase awareness of the movement. These initiatives are combining digital and physical library elements together.

“Everyone is sharing what they’re reading, watching, and listening to all the time,” Gaggioli said. “Making the sharing physical again is exciting: instead of just reading someone’s tweet about a book they loved, you have the chance to actually encounter it unexpectedly in person.”    

The three organizers think the funnest part of the campaign will be deciding how to tie in a book’s theme with the secret location, for example, deciding which station to hide David Ortiz’s upcoming release. The hidden books will span all genres from picture books to fantasy and even poetry. Upcoming book titles include “Where’s Waldo,” “Patrick and the President,” and “On Turpentine Lane.” Check out the website’s calendar to find out dates when other titles are being delivered.

If your city has a large public transportation system and doesn’t already participate in the movement, you can check out the Books On The Move campaign website to learn how to get the initiative started. If you are located in areas that already have the program, you can get involved by becoming a book fairy. Spreading this movement and creating mobile libraries will grow a more literacy friendly environment in your city.


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