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Improbable Libraries

A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries

How do you use your local library? Does it arrive at your door on the back of an elephant? Can it float down the river to you? Or does it occupy a phone booth by the side of the road?

Public libraries are a cornerstone of modern civilization, yet like the books in them, libraries face an uncertain future in an increasingly digital world. Undaunted, librarians around the globe are thinking up astonishing ways of reaching those in reading need, whether by bike in Chicago, boat in Laos, or donkey in Colombia. Improbable Libraries showcases a wide range of unforgettable, never-before-seen images and interviews with librarians who are overcoming geographic, economic, and political difficulties to bring the written word to an eager audience. Alex Johnson charts the changing face of library architecture, as temporary pop-ups rub shoulders with monumental brick-and-mortar structures, and many libraries expand their mission to function as true community centers. To take just one example: the open-air Garden Library in Tel Aviv, located in a park near the city’s main bus station, supports asylum seekers and migrant workers with a stock of 3,500 volumes in sixteen different languages.  

Beautifully illustrated with two hundred and fifty color photographs, Improbable Libraries offers a breathtaking tour of the places that bring us together and provide education, entertainment, culture, and so much more. From the rise of the egalitarian Little Free Library movement to the growth in luxury hotel libraries, the communal book revolution means you’ll never be far from the perfect next read.

See sample pages (PDF format).

240 pages | 250 color plates | 7 x 7 | © 2015

Architecture: History of Architecture

Art: Photography

History: General History

Library Science and Publishing: Library Science


“Fascinating. . . . A valuable visual culture book that doubles as a travel resource.” 

Los Angeles Times




San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautifully depicts the fun side of libraries. . . . The photos in Improbable Libraries give a glimpse at a present, and hopefully a future, in which libraries remain at the heart of our shared literary culture.”

Huffington Post

"Johnson, the son of librarians, is an exuberant guide."

Boston Globe

Improbable Libraries is definitely a labor of love for literature, and offers a global perspective on how essential access to books is in bringing communities vibrancy and education. It’s engaging to flip through the pages and discover unexpected projects. . . . While the DIY and individual-driven libraries Johnson highlights are inspiring, it’s also essential that he locates them in the contemporary context of why they are needed in places underserved or ignored by institutions.” 


“Fascinating. . . . Underscores the importance of books, no matter where a reader lives.”

Christian Science Monitor

“This delightful book will give bibliophiles everywhere ideas for how to exhibit their collection as well as add some destinations to their bucket list. A great option for the children’s room, too.”

Library Journal

Table of Contents


1. Libraries on the Move

2. Animal Libraries

3. Tiny Libraries

4. Big Libraries

5. Home Libraries

6. Mobile Libraries

7. Not Libraries

Select Bibliography


Author Biography

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