Libraries without Buildings

I had coffee with Ben Conyers last week. He’s the Manager of Service Delivery and Design at the State Library of Victoria.

The State Library is about to undergo a massive redevelopment project called Vision 2020. The goal is to make the layout of the library more welcoming, easier to understand, and to accommodate the many different ways patrons use the library.

It’s an ambitious project. Ben was part of the team that came up with the new design. They won an international Good Design award in 2015 for their efforts.

The Library without a Building

Vision 2020 is an impressive achievement. But over coffee, Ben told me something else that he was thinking about: what would the library look like if it didn’t have a building?

That idea has been circling around my brain ever since.

I’ve previously come up with a working definition of a library as a location where a community can engage with information.

But what if it wasn’t a location?

What if the library came out to the community, instead of the community coming in to the library?

Google is a research tool that comes out to the community. Netflix is a video library that comes out to the community. What would a library that came out to the community look like? Trove?

It’s a thought-provoking question.

I don’t have the knowledge or experience to answer it. Not yet. That’s why I’m studying Information Management. But it’s a question to add to my list.

The Ideas Box

Three days later: someone on Twitter links to an article called Library of the future: 8 technologies we would love to see. Number 6 is a mobile library centre like the Ideas Box from Bibliothèques Sans Frontières.

The Ideas Box is a portable library, education and entertainment centre. Its contents are customisable, but they can include 250 books, 50 e-readers, a projector and HD screen for movies, an internet uplink, and a complete local copy of the Khan Academy and Wikipedia for offline access. It also includes chairs, cushions, mats and tables. It can be set up within 20 minutes. And all of this fits onto two shipping pallets in brightly coloured cases designed by Philippe Starck.

It was originally developed for refugee camps. Bibliothèques Sans Frontières plan to expand them out to remote Indigenous Australian communities, and American college campuses.

It’s a general purpose design for a library that goes out into the community.

I could imagine a library creating several boxes with different themes: a History Box, an Indigenous Culture Box, and Science and Technology Box, that could be booked to visit schools, festivals and existing community centres.

Or perhaps some of the designs could be reworked into a modern update of the mobile library.


I’m pretty excited about the Ideas Box. So much so I need to step back and ask some hard questions. There a long history of NGOs developing flashy ideas to save the world, and then those projects quietly dying in the field (see: Stop Trying to Save the World).

Some questions to ask when evaluating a product like this are:

  • How much does each box cost?
  • How much maintenance do they require? How much maintenance can be done in-field, and how much requires the boxes be returned to base?
  • Do people actually use them? Are there any statistics?
  • In what ways do the boxes empower the client community, and in what ways (if any) do they make the community dependent on external parties such as NGOs or suppliers?
  • Are there other solutions already in place? Would we be better off supporting them instead of reinventing the wheel?

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. I only found out Ideas Boxes existed a couple of hours ago.

There is a section on the Ideas Box website on their impact. Google Scholar returns a few more articles, but I need to do some more research.

Fortunately, the Ideas Box is a perfect technology for me to discuss in one of my university assignments. 🙂


About davidwitteveen

IT person. Zine Maker. Level 0 Library Nerd. Doctor Who fan.
This entry was posted in ideas worth stealing, library nerding and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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