The Top 5 Cities for Pop-up Libraries Across America


The world is more mobile now with smart sensors and wearable technology embedding themselves into every aspect of our lives.  As a result, people are increasingly rediscovering the original mobile device – the book.  It’s completely secure, doesn’t mind being dropped and never runs out of power.  As Ray Bradbury pointed out, it can even survive temperatures up to 450 degrees F.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, we have begun to see the real world equivalent of the ubiquitous app store is something called a “pop-up library.”  People who love books are transforming vestigial cultural icons into mini-libraries for the exchange of books.  In the Netherlands, a shipping container has become a friendly green children’s library.  In Bulgaria, a trolly bus has transformed into a book nook with 600 books and cozy chairs for reading.  Perhaps the most poignant example is Argentina’s Weapon of Mass Instruction, a tank filled with books as a mobile library and cultural commentary.

Pop up libraries like these are appearing all over the US as well, as another generation discovers just how cool books are.  Here are five of the more ambitious projects in cities across the country.

1. New York – When you hear the name John Locke, do you think of the 17th century English philosopher or Jack’s mystical antagonist on ‘Lost’?  Actually, he is also an architect who has built pop up libraries in abandoned New York phone booths.  Locke’s project is open ended but his site points out that there are almost 14,000 pay phone booths in NYC.  No one knows where books will be popping up next.

2. Orlando – Even smaller cities like Florida’s Amusement City have been dabbling in displays of books as sharable art.  The Corridor Project installed boxes of books all over the city for residents to “take it or leave it.”  Is it art or public service?  It doesn’t have to be a choice.

3. Chicago – The “Second City” hasn’t been second in size or population for a long time, but it is right behind New York in terms of pop up libraries.  The Chicago Underground Library has launched popups all over the city, with displays of printed treasures going back more than 100 years.

4. Austin – Texas represents the past in terms of cattle drives and outlaws, but Austin is a different animal.  Thanks to the University of Texas, Austin has become a little Hollywood and mini-Silicon Valley.  At the annual SXSW festival, Austin has introduced new technology like Twitter and Foursquare.  Popups of all kinds, including popup libraries, have been a staple at SXSW for years.

5. San Francisco – Newspaper stands are another rapidly disappearing cultural artifact as print has moved online.  Once a day is too slow for the contemporary news cycle, so newspaper stands have been converted into pop up libraries by the San Francisco Public Library.

If you’ve been to any of these pop up libraries or have plans to start one in your own city, we’d love to hear about your experience.

~ Mathew

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