Ingmarie Åberg Staxenius and Eva Magnusson outside the bokbuses. Photo: Charlotte Brenner

The mobile library spreads the joy of reading throughout Gothenburg

Publicerad 1 december 2023

One is a deep green, the other a lovely blue with a marine theme. Wherever the two mobile libraries (or ”book buses”, as they’re called in Swedish) appear in the different districts of Gothenburg, they draw attention. They’re met with expectation and joy by both children and adults.

Many parents and children say that the arrival of the book bus is the high point of the week. It’s a place where people from the neighbourhood meet and socialise. It’s exciting to see all the visitors’ joy, says Eva Magnusson, assistant librarian and book bus driver at Gothenburg’s Library and Cultural Centre, under the Cultural Affairs Administration.

Changes to the mobile library

The mobile library changed as part of the initiative ”The city where we read to our children”. The selection of books was focused on children up to the age of 12 and two new electric book buses – the only ones in Sweden – where put into service in the autumn of 2020. The fact that they run on electricity means they can go everywhere in Gothenburg, including the low emissions zone. The design of the buses, with their bigger entrance doors, wheelchair ramp and low floor level, makes it easier for visitors to get on. The interior is adapted for children: soft sofas, cosy nooks, bright colours, and books and games displayed at a low level to make them easier to see.

It’s fun that this initiative has worked out so well. The book buses are their own advertisement, because of their appearance. We who work on them can be much more involved and move around the bus together with the children. It’s become a real boost, says Ingmarie Åberg Staxenius, media teacher and book bus driver.

Awakens the joys of reading through storytelling sessions and theatre

The selection on offer in the book bus is now focused on children up to the age of 12, and displayed in a way that children will see the books more easily. The main activity on the bus is of course borrowing and reading books. Children can also borrow various games. Ingmarie and Eva, and their six other colleagues, have storytelling sessions, read aloud to the children and do theatre on the bus – all of it intended to awaken the joy of reading and open various doors to literature.

The best way to get children to become readers is to read to them. It becomes a path into language and literature. Having someone read to you, and reading books on your own, arouses children’s imagination and empathy, and they learn facts. Children need to have language as they set out in life, in order to achieve language, reading and word comprehension. Knowing your native language as well as Swedish is important, for example, says Ingmarie.

Often books with facts about an interest the child has ­– like space, say, or the Titanic – are a good introduction to reading, Eva tells us.

Opens new worlds

On the book bus you can borrow a bit of the world and absorb language, knowledge and experience. Getting children to discover the magical world of books is the dream job for both Ingmarie and Eva.

Many children are surprised that there are books in so many languages. They may not even have been to the library before, and then they come to the book bus and realise that it’s fun to read. New worlds open. It’s fantastic to see and share the children’s thoughts and joy, says Ingmarie.

The book bus is a bridge between people in the suburbs and the libraries in the city. The children understand that there are libraries in the city because we introduce them to books and to library cards. They grow and feel important with their own library card, Eva says.

Visits to preschools

The green book bus runs six days a week; the blue one every day. One Saturday a month they visit homes for children with functional impairments. On weekday mornings it’s preschools. 400 wards and 135 preschools every month.

The visits are very much appreciated as many people live far from libraries. We select books for different themes and use glove puppets to arouse the children’s interest, Ingmarie tells us.

Preschool kids are an important target group. They’re still curious at that age. We want to fire up that curiosity, says Eva.

Travel all over Gothenburg

On weekdays between 5 and 8 pm the buses run on a timetable: the green bus in the west and the blue in the east. They also participate at events such as the Book Fair, West Pride and Children’s Day. On Saturdays the blue book bus pops up in places like Plikta playground in Slottsskogen, or by the Maritime Museum. In the summer many young people hang out on and by the bus.

One Saturday in Slottsskogen, a small boy came by seven times in the space of a few hours. His parents tried to persuade him to come home with them, but he just replied: ‘I’m reading, don’t disturb me.’ He got all cosy on the book bus. That was heart-warming. Another time a little boy came in his pyjamas and wanted a book for his bedtime. Another unforgettable memory, Ingmarie tells us.

Regulars return year after year

The book selection on the bus is focused on younger children, but everyone is welcome. Older siblings, parents and elderly people take the opportunity to pick up and drop off books. Many people come back every week, year after year.

  We’ve built great relationships with many regulars over the years, Ingmarie says.

Many elderly people like the fact that the book bus comes to their neighbourhood. That makes it easier to pick up books. Some don’t have a computer or an iPad, so we help them to reserve books. They appreciate the personalised service. Many of them also live alone and come by for the company and to tell us about what they’ve read, says Eva.

More loans and visitors

The book buses’ outreach activity has paid off. In the first year loans increased by 130 per cent. Visitor numbers and book loans increase every year: in 2022 there were 42,335 visits and 108,779 loans. Those figures have already been surpassed this year. In 2022 the book buses also won a prize as Mobile Library of the Year in Sweden.

We could use a third bus, that’s how big demand is, Ingmarie says.

I would love to see a book bus that went to nursing residences, since many elderly people have difficulties getting to the library. The great advantage of the book bus is precisely that it goes to where people are and makes literature more accessible, Eva adds.

Ingmarie Åberg Staxenius’ and Eva Magnusson’s engagement with promoting reading as well as with their visitors goes straight to the heart. They make the world of books warm and welcoming.