who: guaranteeing and safeguarding access to culture & information is the main task of the IFLA (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users.
why: since 1971, 1,700 members all over the world through local and global policies pursue the endorsement of the principles of freedom of access to information - ideas and works of imagination and freedom of expression - embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the belief that people, communities and organisations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being; the conviction that delivery of high quality library and information services helps guarantee that access; the commitment to enable all members of the Federation to engage in, and benefit from, its activities without regard to citizenship, disability, ethnic origin, gender, geographical location, language, political philosophy, race or religion.
what: since 2002, the IFLA has established a new category in its discussion and action panel. The Section on Mobile Libraries is concerned with all aspects of mobile library operations, collections, services, education and training, and research in all geographical areas. The goals consist in promoting the importance and value of mobile libraries for effecting equity of access to information for all residents, particularly in remote and rural areas.
best practices/Thailand: Aree Cheunwattana of Srinakharinwirot University, Thailand, in a recent meeting of IFLA Mobile Library section’s members, described the various methods of book delivery in her home country. Beyond the Mobile Buses and Book House (Containers) system, the most interesting approach to library mobility is represented by The Floating Library. In Thailand, there are currently two book-boats in use, which offer a collection of over 2,000 books and educational facilities to riverside communities. One of the boats is equipped with computers.
Another very local way of implementing access to information in specific areas is the Elephant Libraries, where elephants are used to carry information and educational materials to 46 remote hill villages in Northern Thailand. Materials carried by elephant include book boxes, satellite dishes, generators, computers, video and CD players and writing boards. This project was awarded the UNESCO literacy prize for 2002.
best practices/Norway: the floating libraries system has also been adopted in Norway in order to reach rural areas. Epos is the name of this unique service in Norway, although a large number of bookmobile buses are also present throughout the country. The boat operates along the west coast of Norway, with its fjords and islands, and is a joint service of three county libraries. The first floating library service was started in 1959 in Hordaland, and in 1963 the current boat Epos was built specifically to serve as a book-boat. At that time the counties of Sogn, Fjordane, Moere, and Romsdal joined the service. It is still an important part of the three county libraries´ services. Although infrastructure is changing, and roads and bridges are being built, there are still localities most easily reached by boat. The book-boat is 80 feet long, carries approximately 6000 books, and visits 250 small communities twice a year. The services of the book-boat are funded through the budgets of the three county libraries, with a 50% subsidy from the state.
The book-boat sails from September to April, and each trip consists of 64 days in the three counties. Every day it stops at one to four places, and the average time quayside is one to two hours. Even in a rich country like Norway the importance of school libraries is not appreciated and many of them are not equipped to meet the children’s needs in today’s modern school. So for many of the students the book-boat is actually their main library.
sustainability: IFLA acknowledges that the discovery, contention, elaboration and application of research in all fields will enhance progress, sustainability and human well being. Mobile library services provide access to rural areas and to special groups, such as the elderly or disadvantaged youth with no access to formal education utilities. Last but not least, sharing books and other printed publications among a vast audience through mobile public libraries contribute to reduce the impact of paper consumption and disposal!