The Librarian and the Hot Rod Shop

What do you get when you cross a librarian with a hot-rod shop? Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it isn’t. A provincial Libraries and Literacy grant and a directive to ‘create a mobile initiative to promote adult literacy’ was the beginning of Fraser Valley Regional Library’s (BC, Canada) Library Live and On Tour, the first project of its kind in the library world and a literacy advocacy tool like no other.

Instead of the partnerships that libraries more commonly make—with other non-profit organizations—Library Live and On Tour ventured into the world of enterprise and found the most unlikely literacy supporters: guys with tattoos.

When it became apparent that the traditional go-to library mobile initiative—a bookmobile—was not a practical or affordable option, FVRL was challenged to be creative with resources and ideas.

The result is a mobile initiative that delivers the library to people who do not know about our libraries or have some obstacle to visiting them. Unlike bookmobiles, Library Live and On Tour stresses service through community development, access to information, adult literacy advocacy, and awareness, rather than being exclusively about books.

The project is an exercise—in large part—in shattering stereotypes of libraries, librarians, and literacy. The centrepiece of the initiative is a highly noticeable and surprising little vehicle (LiLi) with very un-library-like enhancements, like a kick-ass audio system with external marine speakers, custom sub box, on-board amps/inverters/power sources, built in XBox 360 Kinect, wireless microphone system, multi-color underglow lighting, mag wheels, AOOGA horn, 2-3G Internet-connected laptops and 'gadget bar' (3 different eReaders, 2 tablets, Playaway books, Daisy player).

LiLi has been on the road for a little over one month. In this time, the numbers look like this:
· Fines waived: approx. $1000
· Community Events: 17
· Books given away: approx. 200
· Library cards issued: 16
· Community stops (food banks, shelters, transition houses, social programs): 14

Library Live is currently booked for more than 63 events between now and the end of the year and innumerable community stops.

— Smitty Miller, Fraser Valley Regional Library Community Development Librarian (aka known as Tour Manager)



  1. Some old school mobile libraries:

    1938: Works Progress Administration Pack Horse Librarians make regular calls at mountain schools where children are furnished with books for themselves and books to read to their illiterate parents and elders.

    Here’s a donkey-drawn mobile library operating in Ethiopia (2009?): 

    and a “Biblioburro” donkey library in Colombia (2009?): 

  2. FVRL is my local library (I even used to work there as a casual). They have a lot of really good programs and a decent collection — they were one of the first regional libraries.

  3. So this doesn’t issue books, and has all these “very un-library-like enhancements”.  That’s nice, but I fail to see how this in any way actually might convince anyone to use the library.

    I work in my former university’s library (I’m a cleaner).  From 2006 to now, the library has vastly increased the number of computers and study spaces it offers, started providing e-readers for loan, set up plasma info screens all over the place.  How has it done this?  By clearing out the books.  All the journals, including many things I myself used to write my final dissertation, that are not available electronically, are gone, shoved into storage several miles away.  The display screens regurgitate the same messages now that they did when they were installed three years ago.  I’ve never seen anyone with an e-reader. At least half of the students I see are using the library computers or their own laptops to look at facebook, youtube, cracked, spotify or to play games.  They sleep in the study rooms – or screw each other – and treat the place like their own personal office.  I’d estimate that only about 10% of the students I see in any given day are there to get a book.  The place is not really a repository of knowledge any more; it’s more like a sort of multi-purpose study barn.

    My point in saying this is, libraries are clearly losing the plot, and this pimped-out Nissan Cube is just another aspect of the information age panic.  You DO NOT have to make libraries attractive to everyone.  Libraries are there to protect and store information, and provide it freely to everyone – if they want it.  Anything else is outside their remit.  If you want to use a library, you will.  If you don’t, parading gadgetry and irrelevant car enhancements in front of you will only serve to either decieve you or bore you.  The idea that everyone can benefit from a library is as misguided and foolish as saying everyone can enjoy sport, or that everyone likes TV, or that national service is universally positive.

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