The Grace of Mobile Libraries

A few years ago I read The Library Book, edited by the Reading Agency; borrowed it from a library, funnily enough. This is an anthology of writing on libraries by a number of well-known authors, but the piece that got me thinking was the forward, in which a librarian tells of her mobile library’s encounters with the homeless.

It’s moving to read of how lending a book to someone on the streets is more than just a nice public service – it’s an act of trust. After all, when your clientele is itinerant, you’re not going to get all of your books back.

And yet books were returned – kept dry when their reader himself was soaking wet, and acting as a catalyst for conversations other than homeless shelters. One man, having got back on his feet, became a librarian himself. Lending books became a humanising event, an act of grace almost. It changed people’s lives.

The same thing is happening in Greece. Laura Naude and Esther ten Zijthoff have converted an old minibus into a mobile library for refugees. Born out of the realisation that people in refugee camps need more than simple food and shelter, the library has become a safe space for people wanting to learn other languages, for scholars who want to translate their work, for kids who just want to read.

A library in an old minibus can serve as an agent of grace, and this grace can lead to transformation, if we accept it. It’s given freely, a thing of beauty that can help transform someone’s surroundings, even if circumstances are difficult. We shouldn’t simply reduce people to consumers of food and electricity and a welfare bill – ultimately that’sort dehumanising. Working to nourish souls, communities and hope is just as important: it’seems mazing what can grow from books in a bus.