Swedish book bus brings libraries closer to the people

Swedish book bus brings libraries closer to the people
Sweden's Book Buses bring the library to you. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan
The Local took a ride on one of Sweden's Book Buses in Gothenburg, a project run by municipal libraries in Sweden to bring books closer to the citizens. Because of this summer's extremely hot weather, they can often be found at the beach.

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These buses are unusual: they are filled with books and they go to the beach. Old, white and painted with silhouettes of people reading books, you may well have seen them on the streets of many Swedish cities.

“You talk more books in the bus than in the library. It's more old-school,” 33-year-old Albin Berggren told The Local while driving the Book Bus through Gothenburg.

Berggren is one of the few librarians in the city with a driver's license enabling him to drive buses.

He parks the vehicle in the shade halfway to the beach by one of Gothenburg's popular lakes, Stora Delsjön. The next step is to set up a playground in front of it: beach umbrellas, chairs, blankets, boxes with books and even a mini horse race with obstacles and props to dress up as a horse – for the youngest visitors to the mobile library.

“It's easier to attract kids with a game,” he explains. 

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At around noon Berggren organizes book readings: toddlers and pre-school age kids listen while he reads fairy tales aloud as their parents take a moment to rest. On some days the library invites artists to run puppet shows in the Book Bus. 

Up to 60 people visit the Book Bus every day, and for Berggren the highlight of his job is encouraging children to read. 

“You can almost trick them into borrowing a book! You can say: 'No, this book is too exciting for you' – and they will grab it for sure”.

At one point during the afternoon, two fire trucks and a minibus arrive to Delsjön park, another sign of just how extreme this summer's weather has been. They have come to localize “a small fire”, one of the firemen explains as more and more people arrive to the beach. 

The Book Bus would normally go to the city beaches only a couple of times over the summer, Berggren says, but this year, the prolonged hot weather has made it possible to stay by the water almost every day.

Three-year-old William enters the bus with his mum while his father waits outside. His mum, Madeleine, says she has seen the Book Bus many times but this is the first time she's been inside. 

“You can't read much when you're with a little one. But now as his father has joined us, I will have some time for a magazine,” she smiles. Little William meanwhile picks his own illustrated book.

People can borrow books using a library card or just an ID card, 34-year-old librarian Hanna Bjarnegard explains as she registers Madeleine's order in the system. It's also possible to order a specific book through the library's website and pick it up from the bus. 

Berggren says it's rare that visitors speak no Swedish at all, but a variety of language options are available on the Book Bus shelves. Adults can choose from English, Arabic, Persian, Somali, Spanish, and Finnish, and kids have an even wider range of languages, including books in Russian, Polish, Bosnian, Kurdish, Turkish, and Chinese on top of that.

Expats often choose books in simple English or simple Swedish, the librarian adds.

Sweden's Book Buses cruise the city during working hours and operate in various municipalities across the country. For details, contact your local city library.

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