Not every community around the world has the resources to build a library to offer its members access to books. That’s where mobile libraries come in. “Libraries carried by animals,” observes Alex Johnson in his book Improbable Libraries, “can travel over rough ground in areas with limited infrastructure, have low running costs, and are extremely environmentally friendly.
Mobile libraries began in America in 1905. Mary Titcomb of the Washington County Free Library in Maryland created the first library wagon, carrying boxes of books, to distribute books at small towns throughout the county. The library wagon, painted a bright red, would stop at a general store or post office to make books available.
Around the world, a number of animals are utilized to carry books to remote villages. In Colombia, the Biblioburro, relies on two donkeys wearing pouches to carry books to communities. The library began with 70 books, and now has more than 10,000.
Ethiopia Reads also uses donkeys for its mobile library services. To reach remote communities, the program also uses horses. The traveling librarians not only read to the students, but also teach them English, math, and science.
In the Sainyabuli Province of Laos, nonprofit publisher Big Brother Mouse uses an elephant named Boom-Boom (“boom” means “book” in Lao) to reach very remote villages, accessible only by foot or boat. The children are just as excited to listen to stories as they are visiting with the beloved elephant.
In Mongolia, the Mongolian Children’s Library, utilizes camels to visit nomadic herding communities spread across the Gobi desert. They have also used horses, cows, and reindeer to bring books to these communities.
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For further reading: Improbable Libraries by Alex Johnson (2015)