March 28, 2014

What this world needs is some more boxed library


The timing may be coincidental, but it doesn’t feel that way. In the same week that the UK faced criticism for restricting book flow into prisons (covered here by our own Kirsten Reach), the organization Libraries Without Borders unveiled a project to do pretty much the opposite: send libraries to refugee camps.

Much like traditional refugee aid, these libraries come in easily transportable boxes, the likes of which debuted at a New York Public Library event Tuesday night. The Wall Street Journal reports that the boxes are sturdy, lightweight, and waterproof, but also, as designed by Philippe Starck, vibrant and uplifting. They should “feel like Christmas,” he explains, but, “inside, it’s not toys, it’s doors—doors to an open mind, thousands of different universes.” Accordingly, they’re called Ideas Boxes.

Ideas Boxes do much to replicate what one might find in a traditional library. Inside are 5,000 e-books, 50 e-readers, 250 printed books, four laptops with internet, tables, chairs, board games, and a projector complete with 100 films—nothing like the throwaway books one might expect. The logic behind these choices is that library access is a critical resource, especially for people lacking so much else in their lives. As such, the quality matters.

“The idea is that food, water and shelter aren’t enough,” said the founder of Libraries Without Borders, Patrick Weil. “People who have lost everything need books, films, games and Internet access to feed their minds, connect with loved ones, pursue education and rebuild their lives.”

Not surprisingly, the arguments in favor of the Ideas Box much resemble arguments against the UK book ban. Reading can be a tool to rebuild one’s life, learn new skills, and retain some agency in an existence that lacks much of it. These effects are already taking place in Burundi, thanks to a grant from the Alexander Soros Foundation. But, at $60,000 a box, Libraries Without Borders is in need of corporate sponsors to meet their literary goals in Lebanon and Jordan.

So hey corporate bigwigs with potential corporate guilt, take a moment to picture this scene described by the project director in Burundi: kids crowding around a screen to watch an animated film, students studying, adults learning about the history of the Congo. What this world needs is some more boxed library.