Free Read and Ride Digital Libraries at Boston’s City Bus Stops

New digital library connectivity is a boost for transportation users.



(Inside Creative House /

Bus stops in the city of Boston are transforming into digital libraries through an innovative Boston Public Library (BPL) pilot program called “Browse, Borrow, Board,” announced Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently in a press release.

She revealed that riders at 20 bus stops can now access a wide range of digital content, including audiobooks, eBooks, e-newspapers, and e-magazines, simply by scanning a QR code. The program, which will run until the end of August, aims to cater to readers of all ages.

Importantly, library cards are not required, and readers do not need to download any additional applications. To ensure user convenience and safety, blue slip-proof decals have been placed on the sidewalks at the designated bus stops.

“This pilot program builds on our efforts to make public transportation more enjoyable, while also connecting our residents to the resources the Boston Public Library already offers,” Mayor Wu said.

The advantages of a digital library
Digital libraries serve as comprehensive online repositories that offer users convenient access to a vast array of resources, according to Tech Target. They are particularly valuable to students conducting academic research and professionals seeking to remain up-to-date on the latest developments in their respective fields.

A notable advantage of digital libraries lies in their ability to provide users with access to rare and out-of-print materials that may prove elusive or unattainable through traditional physical library channels. Additionally, these digital platforms boast robust search and sorting functionalities, enabling users to navigate through expansive collections of content with ease.

Digital libraries are continually integrating new features to enhance the user experience. These enhancements encompass multimedia content, advanced data visualization tools, and interactive elements, all of which contribute to a more engaging and enriching library experience. With digital libraries, individuals can explore a wealth of knowledge, conveniently accessible at their fingertips without entering a physical building.

The Open Library and the Gutenberg Project, are ranked as first and second-best digital libraries according to   

Boston’s reading options
A diverse range of content will be available to riders, with a particular emphasis on materials that are suitable for on-the-go reading, according to NBC Boston. This includes an assortment of poetry, short stories, and concise audiobooks, as well as a curated collection of popular titles for readers of all ages, including children and teenagers. The content will be primarily offered in English and Spanish to cater to a broader audience.

In addition, the program boasts an extensive newspaper and magazine selection, featuring an impressive 7,000 titles from over 125 countries, providing riders with a wealth of global reading options.

Bus riders will have the opportunity to check out up to five titles at a time, with a generous two-week borrowing period. After two weeks, borrowers can easily re-register by scanning the QR code again, enabling them to check out new materials. As the summer progresses, additional offerings will be continuously added to enrich the reading experience for riders.

Bus stops as gathering points
According to Maddie Webster, program manager in the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), which helped develop the initiative, the pilot program was initiated based on a comprehensive transit rider survey conducted by MONUM summer fellow Bailey Siber last year, according to Smart Cities Dive

This survey was conducted during discussions between leaders at the Boston Public Library (BPL) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), exploring the potential for collaboration.

Siber collected over 250 constituent responses through a combination of in-person and online surveys conducted in various languages. The aim was to understand the types of resources that people desired from the BPL, identify services that were not currently offered by the library, and explore the activities people would like to engage in while on a bus. 

Webster told Smart Cities Dive that approximately three-quarters of the respondents expressed that access to BPL resources would likely or very likely enhance their public transit experiences. She noted that bus riders, in particular, showed significant interest in these services, possibly due to less frequent bus schedules. Additionally, bus lines often serve underserved communities that may be unaware of the services provided by the BPL.

The selection of the 20 bus stops included in the pilot program was carefully made to ensure representation across various neighborhoods. Webster analyzed MBTA data to identify bus stops with the highest number of boardings, with a focus on those serving Boston’s fare-free bus routes established in early 2022. In cases where the most popular bus stop was unclear, liaisons from the neighborhood services office were consulted to determine the busiest location.

Looking ahead, MONUM is exploring other innovative ways to utilize bus stops, including their potential as "points of climate resilience”. Ideas being considered include the installation of water fountains, environmentally friendly air conditioning systems, and WiFi connectivity. Bus stops are often gathering places where people wait for extended periods, and they may not always be located near shaded areas in parks due to their placement within public rights-of-way.

The success of the pilot program will primarily be measured by the number of users who sign up for a library card. MONUM is also interested in surveying users to assess whether the service has made their public transit experiences more enjoyable.

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