July 29, 2013

Libraries join forces with local airports


The library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport

Putting up with the miseries of air travel seems to be getting more and more difficult by the day, and one of the best ways to distract yourself from the fully reclined seat in front of you or your own masochistic fretting over the low quantities of dismal food is having something good to read. If you’re anything like me, selecting reading material before a long flight is a vital part of planning any trip, somewhere between buying your ticket and checking exactly how many ounces your toiletries comprise, in terms of importance. But if something goes awry and you find yourself in need of a good book—and unimpressed with the newsstand selection—a few airports have teamed up with local libraries to offer free options for busy travelers.

Ian Chant writes for Library Journal about some of the libraries that have cropped up recently. Some in the US are sticking with entirely virtual collections, like the one at Manhattan Regional Airport in Kansas and the partnership between the Free Library of Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport. Library Journal’s librarian of the year, Joanne Budler, started the program in Kansas, called Books on the Fly, which she conceived after noticing that nearly all passengers waiting for their flights were focused on phones, and wondered how she could shift the focus to books. Rather than fighting travelers’ addiction to smartphones and tablets, Budler decided to put it to use. Books on the Fly flyers are now available throughout the airport in Manhattan, with QR codes that will take readers straight to the Kansas State Library’s eLending service (and a URL for people with dedicated e-readers that can’t scan the codes).

The system at Philadelphia’s airport works similarly; the FLP has effectively opened a virtual branch there, providing access to the library’s own wi-fi network, connecting fliers directly to its site and online services. The downside to these online branches is that you still need a library card for the respective library in order to take full advantage of e-lending, so it’s less convenient for people who happen to be passing through—likely to be more of a concern at an international airport and hub like Philadelphia than a regional one in Kansas. Each one does, however, connect visitors without cards to Project Gutenberg’s mobile site to take advantage of public domain offerings, so that they can pick up classics like Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, or (for unusually long flights) War and Peace.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, meanwhile, has taken things beyond the virtual realm with a small library of physical books. For the second summer running, the King County Library System in Washington State has opened Quick Read stations in the airport, with books, magazines, and seating. Library staffers bring donated reading material to the stations, and travelers are welcome to read right there to pass the time before a flight, or take a book or magazine with them. There’s no obligation to return them, but KCLS marketing director Julie Brand says that some readers have shipped books back to the library once they’ve returned home—out of kindheartedness or a deep-seated fear of overdue fees instilled during childhood, it’s impossible to say.

It will be interesting to see how these airport libraries fare. I instinctively like the idea of libraries using cool and inventive methods to get more people reading. But if e-lending at the airport excludes people who don’t already have a library card as well as voracious readers who have planned accordingly (and therefore don’t need anything new), it’s hard for me to see exactly who will be taking advantage of it. I’d advocate implementing something similar in New York so I could try it out myself, but not the Seattle system—our airports are terrible places full of irritated people, who would likely grab huge stacks of books and toss them in the trash out of spite.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.