A mobile library is inspiration on wheels
A mobile library is inspiration on wheels
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How to set up a mobile library

Libraries are valuable centres of knowledge and community life, and a mobile library can deliver the familiar in a new, unexpected way, providing access to underserved communities and groups with limited mobility. Here’s what you need to know to build out your van into a library on wheels.

Unfortunately, brick-and-mortar libraries are experiencing a significant downturn across the country. But who’s to say a new spin on a familiar model can’t breathe new life into the essential service they provide? To be more accurate, mobile libraries actually have a long history dating back to the 19th century. Today’s examples, however, have progressed quite a bit since their horse-and-buggy iteration.

Setting up a mobile library for the 21st century

Books and other paper formats are no longer the only medium available through mobile libraries, many of which incorporate computers, tablets, and mobile Wi-Fi. This in addition to offering other forms of media like DVDs and CDs, as well as toys and visual learning materials. A library built into a van can zip from one town to another, providing this wealth of material to a new community every day.

Operating a mobile library is rewarding work. Many provide site-specific services to places like assisted living facilities, so residents can enjoy services that would otherwise be inaccessible. Children are also enticed by the idea of a library on wheels, an opportunity that educators are eager to take advantage of. Mobile libraries are also ideal for serving temporary communities that assemble to complete a specific task, such as construction in un- or under-populated areas, or collecting the seasonal harvest. Community events like fairs, public shows, or carnivals also provide ample opportunity to engage with local communities. A reliable van can move your library between any of these areas, be they in town or country.

A vintage look is nice, but mobile libraries have a come a long way since horse-and-buggy days
A vintage look is nice, but mobile libraries have a come a long way since horse-and-buggy days

Calculating the costs of your mobile library

Before opening your mobile library, you’ll have to calculate costs. The good news is that overhead is relatively low for such a venture. Aside from purchasing and outfitting the vehicle, which we’ll get to shortly, the most significant costs are those associated with the upkeep of the library vehicle. Entrepreneurs must consider the usual outgoings tied to vehicle insurance and fuel, as well as any possible parking or storage costs when the vehicle is not in use. More specific to mobile libraries are the electricity and telecommunications costs that will go into powering any on-board devices, and to offer internet access via mobile broadband or satellite internet.

Keep in mind that unlike a static library housed in a building that could last hundreds of years, a mobile library has a far shorter lifespan, lasting only as long as the vehicle. So, despite what a vintage vehicle might provide in charm, a new, reliable vehicle with quality fittings represents a far more sound investment. The Renault Master, a van large enough to comfortably house a library, comes with an impressive four-year new vehicle warranty including Renault Assistance Roadside Coverage.

Choosing the right van

Though a number of vehicles can be converted into mobile libraries, vans offer the best compromise between size and manoeuvrability. They are also more viable cost-wise than large buses or trucks, both in terms of initial purchase and fuel economy. An added bonus is that no special driver’s license is required to operate a van in the UK.

With its spacious cargo area, the Renault Master, available in four lengths and three heights, is optimal for mobile library conversions. The standard Master rear-wheel drive version offers a load volume of up to 17 m3, which can be expanded to 22 m3 with a simple off-the-shelf Box Van conversion. Buyers might consider putting in stairs with rails to make for easier entrance and exit, especially for children and the elderly.

The Luton Loloader, another off-the-shelf conversion option, offers optimal space while bringing cargo lower to the ground. Its low loading height (550 mm) allows for the easiest entrance and exit with nothing more than some block stairs or a ramp required. Load volume is 19 m3, just a few shy of the Box Van conversion.

These conversions are all available directly from our dealer network as a “One Stop Shop”. In most cases, the conversion will match the base vehicle warranty. Read more about our Accredited Converters .

Accommodating your books and library members

Technical considerations

Those who wish to offer Wi-Fi and tablets or other digital amenities should consider fitting an additional battery. This battery should have an on-board charger so that it can be recharged either on site or when parked in storage. Electricals should also be set up before any build outs to ensure access to outlets in the library. LED lights – low-voltage and low-energy – are an ideal choice to illuminate the mobile library interior.

Making room for the books

Solid wood, composite wood, or metal shelving can then be installed. Adjustable shelving is the most versatile, allowing you to capitalize on the limited space within any mobile library. Side shelves should be angled in between 10˚ and 15˚ with any shelves against the back wall up to 20˚ to prevent books or other contents from falling during transit.

For detailed information regarding setting up your mobile library, check out the comprehensive guide provided by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions . For additional insights, take a look at the toolkits and guidance provided by the Libraries Taskforce. With the practical tips they offer and the right vehicle choice, you’ll be up and running in no time. Time to spread some knowledge!