Notebook: Summer Reading (Part II)

by Ann Kjellberg, editor

Albena Beach Library, Albena, Bulgaria. From the blog of the European Voluntary Service in Sofia, Bulgaria

The hospitality vacation shows to reading is so generous it can migrate outside the four walls of bookstores and libraries. Every few years delighted travel journalists, like Allison Meier for Atlas Obscura, have discover the world’s handful of beach libraries. On the occasion of the opening of Abu Dhabi’s public library, amidst “beautiful glass architecture” on Corniche Beach, she unspooled a string of them:

Starting in 2006, the Department of Seine-Maritime in France has installed twelve small libraries on its northern beaches (you can find a whole map of them online). Perhaps the most well-known is the extensive beach library at Albena, a restort on Bulgaria’s Black Sea. Designed by German architect Herman Kompernas, it’s built to withstand the sun, water, and wind, and equipped with a vinyl cover to protect the books in rain. 

The Bibliothèque de Plage in Istres, France, camps out under a steel-and-tarpaulin canopy; a pop-up library on the Metzitzim Beach, in Tel Aviv, offers books in five languages and tablets with WiFi; and IKEA set up a library of thirty shelves on Sydney’s Bondi Beach to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their ubiquitous Billy Bookshelf.

Christine Rodas, a librarian on the Jersey Shore, reports that libraries with a summer population often lay out book exchanges for those passing through and “Story Walks” featuring pages from children’s books distributed through outdoor spaces. The Park City (Utah) Library, noting the town’s outdoorsy vibe, offered an outdoor spin on libraries’ widespread summer reading programs (to combat the “summer slide” observed in children’s reading when school is closed) by planning a reading flash mob called “Flash Read” and an interactive outdoor sculpture for posting reading goals.

But Holland, which produced a mobile beach library of its own, came up with the most ambitious response to the needs and opportunities posed by reading travelers: They opened their famous Airport Library at the busy hub of Schiphol, to give readers a taste of Dutch culture translated into many languages and a chance to relax and unplug (partners in the library initiative include the great Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum). Thirty-two percent of respondents to a 2013 “Skyscanner” survey said they would like to see more libraries in airports—the third most popular choice, after cinemas and sleeping pods. Libraries followed Schiphol's lead in Talinn, Estonia; Manhattan, Kansas; Helsinki, Finland; Taiwan; Fort Lauderdale; Philadelphia; San Antonio; and Abu Dhabi, offering harried travelers books to share, borrow, and download. Hotels are even getting into the act. BudgetTravel compiled a list of “Best Hotel Libraries,” and one industry web site advises, “People are seeking ways to disconnect and … you, the beautiful, relaxing resort that you are … should be helping this along by providing a carefully curated library for your guests.” And of course cabins and bungalows everywhere have informal libraries of books passed on from visitor to visitor.

It’s lovely to spend a few days contemplating how people read all over the globe when they are given a bit of time, but one can’t help entertain the inverse observation: our busyness, magnified by the gig economy and the expectation that we remain connected to our jobs at all times, is driving out of our days so much of what we consider precious to life. When I began my own book review so many of the people I spoke to about it said they consider themselves readers but, actually, don’t have much time to read. Our digital life becomes more and more primed with incentives to move quickly. A bookstore under a tent at the beach sounds like a lark, but it is kindred to one of the deepest thoughts driving our endeavor here: how do we make time in the twenty-first century to be deliberative, to marvel, to assimilate, to deepen, to grow?

[Read Part 1 of “Summer Reading” here!]

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Schiphol Airport Library, Schiphol, The Netherlands