Pop Up Libraries: Tips for Success

What is a Pop-Up Library?

Books in the park Library Program Pop UpA pop-up library is a temporary collection of materials for patrons to browse and check-out, at a location other than the library. My program, Books in the Park, was hosted over the summer at Victoria Park downtown Kitchener, every other Wednesday from 1-3. Approximately 20 people attended each time, of a variety of ages, but mostly 20s/30s. Some pop-up libraries function simply as check-out points, while others include activities and facilitated discussion.

Why do a Pop-Up Library?

One of the comments I received most often during Books In The Park was: Wow you guys are really changing what it means to be a library. Pop-Up Libraries achieve many goals:

  • bringing library books and librarians to people who may not think to go to a library
  • showing people that libraries are innovative organizations
  • showcasing the hidden gems in our collections
  • providing activities that prove libraries are more than just books
  • giving book-lovers a chance to meet each other
  • encouraging critical discussion of media

Where Should You Do a Pop-Up Library?

Unique Outdoors Library ProgramThe most ideal place for a Social Pop-Up Library is somewhere people visit recreationally, without too many other activities competing for their competition. The more picturesque, the better. The more people walking by, the better. I found my spot by the entrance to Kitchener’s iconic Victoria Park – steps away from the bus terminal and near the downtown core. I scheduled the event to begin just as a free, popular Yoga In The Park event was ending.

If you want a high circulation pop-up library, try places of heavy traffic and transition: a bus terminal, the mall, a local music or multicultural festival, the farmer’s market.

How to Advertise Pop-Up Library?

Books in the park 2Social media is key! Create a simple attractive image to hook attention, and tweet it out. Use a hashtag so attendees can share photos. Find local “What’s Going On” twitter accounts, and mention them for retweets. I used Canva.com, a free design tool, to create the image.

We also advertised our event on Meetup.com, which attracted several attendees.

What Should You Do At a Pop-Up Library?

Pop Up Library PoetryThe most obvious part, of course, is the books. I selected a variety of books from every section of my library. Display these on a tall bookshelf if possible, and scatter some around the seating area. Some people will sit quietly and read, others will strike up conversations and chat the whole time. Make yourself available as a reader’s advisory resource.

Crafts and colouring sheets: it works for kindergartners and it works for adults. Sharing pencil crayons is a great way to break the ice, and giving people something to do with their hands is a great way to make them feel comfortable talking to strangers. My meetings always started as “pass the blue marker?” and evolved into a large circle of people talking about our favourite and least favourite books, movies, video games, restaurants, etc.

What Books Should You Bring to a Pop-Up Library?

Pop Up Library cardboard shelfAnything and everything you can carry. Variety is the most important part of selection. For your first meeting, try to create a condensed representation of the books offered at your library. Notice which books are most attention grabbing, and bring more of those next time. Ask attendees what type of books they’d like more of, and bring more.

I chose high interest books (books by popular authors, newly published Canadian books, books with beautifully designed covers), and books that shocked people (“There’s an entire book about learning to love spiders?!”) Surprisingly, the non-fiction books I brought were always the most browsed (books about art, cooking, home design, yoga, memoirs, lego…). As far as fiction goes, I tried to bring lots of whimsical short story collections, which fit the mood and went over well.

Books in the Park Program Picture BooksMake sure you have at least a few picture books and children’s chapter books. Even if your goal is to attract verbose 20-somethings, children will inevitably walk by and want to be included. If you’re lucky, the verbose 20-somethings will want a storytime too.

Can Patrons Check Stuff Out at a Pop-Up Library?

They can at mine! We brought the branch laptop (complete with a full version of our Integrated Library System), a Rogers Air Card (which allows you to create an internet hotspot in the middle of a park), new library cards, and a barcode scanner. While I facilitated the informal book discussion, my coworker operated the computer. She checked books out for patrons, and even signed a couple up for new cards.

Pop-Up Libraries are a great way to reach out and get the public talking and thinking about the future of libraries. This has been one of the most valuable and positive experiences thus far in my career as a librarian. I’d love to hear about other librarians’ experiences with Pop-Ups.

Have you ever done a Pop-Up Library? Where else could public and school libraries pop?

3 thoughts on “Pop Up Libraries: Tips for Success

  1. Hi Karissa, thank you for the great overview! What do you use to transport your items? I have a lightweight bookshelf and an ILS-equipped laptop- I am rarin’ to go but am worried about the hauling process. What’s your setup?

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