Beyond library walls: Free e-books for Beijing subway passengers

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"Line2Train" by Jucember - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Line2Train.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Line2Train.jpgRide a certain subway line in Beijing, and you can use your cell phone to scan QR codes and download free library books.

“Librarians choose from a selection of 70,000 e-books—ranging from classic literature to sci-fi and nonfiction—and narrow the list down to 10 books on a particular theme that changes every couple of months,” says FastCompany. "Books are selected based on passengers' reading preferences, and most happen to be students or younger office workers.”

This, of  courses, ties in well with LibraryCity’s books-everywhere philosophy. If a place is public or quasi-public, especially if low-income people are there, e-book posters should be visible. We’ve even suggested that the posters go on the wall of check cashing stores.

In a related vein, FastCompany further reports: “The Beijing subway isn't the first to add a library. A metro station in Bucharest temporarily plastered station walls with a giant print of library shelves, complete with QR codes on book spines. On a metro line in Shanghai, a bookstore launched an unofficial library of actual books that passengers could pick up at one station and drop off at the next. But the program in Beijing may be most likely to last. Here's hoping it inspires other public transit agencies.”

Yes! Something for transit systems in U.S. cities to try—on trains and station walls alike? I can even see QR code posters at sheltered bus stops of the kind we have in Alexandria, Virginia. Seven out of ten households with kids between four and 14 years of age, in the U.S., own cell phones. And given the importance of role models, we should care about the reading habits of the parents, too, not just the kids.

Details: While the Beijing experiment is a nice beginning, I’m sorry to hear about the 10-book approach. I’d love to see more options for passengers. Perhaps color-coded posters (purple for romance novels, for example) could appear for different genres and there could be rotating lists of books on them. On top of everything else, perhaps citywide cell phone book clubs could be started within genres.

On another issue, I’m curious if the Beijing passengers simply borrow the books or can actually keep them. The FastCompany piece uses the phrase “library of free e-books,” and the L word implies that the borrowing model is in use, but who knows? I myself could see a mix of borrowable and ownable books (both public domain and those available for purchase through libraries, from e-bookstores and publishers).

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