Sweden’s Floating Library Sails Books to Remote Islands

The Bokbåten brings thousands of books to the residents of the islands in the Stockholm archipelago



(Courtesy of Annika Lissenko)

Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia have some of the highest literacy rates in the world because the countries strongly value reading and education. The Swedish government believes that all Swedes should have equal access to reading and that's why they have a large number of public libraries across the country, even in the most remote spots like the Stockholm archipelago islands.

To accommodate the approximately 10,000 permanent residents of the 200 inhabited islands (there are around 30,000 islands, islets, and skerries in the archipelago) Sweden actually has a floating library – the bokbåten that visits the islands twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall, the Stockholm Library Service boat docks at 23 islands. The library has been coming to the islands since 1953.

Even after the advent of eBooks and buying books online, the floating library is still very popular. The boat carries over 3,000 books and island residents can put in requests ahead of time.

There are three or four rotating volunteer librarians who travel with the boat; the current one is called the Rödlöga. After the boats dock, residents have around an hour and a half to come onboard to return the books they borrowed from the last visit and they can check out the library's collection with new releases being the most popular, according to MNN.com.

The library has a very large selection of children's books, thrillers, cookbooks, large-print books, and just about anything people want. “It’s not old scruffy books we have,” Maria Anderhagen, who took over managing the bokbåten in 2018 told Literary Hub.

Between voyages, the books are stored in the home library in the municipality of Norrtälje because it has the largest basement. “All the other libraries are down scaling and they didn’t have extra space,” Anderhagen said. “What I’d really like is for all the books to go, so I don’t have to bring them back!”

A study in 2010 found that the floating library had a profound effect on the lives of the island residents. The study concluded: The book boat is of great positive value for children and adults because they can in this way take part in the modern public library. The book boat has an important function as extraordinarily good public relations for the library's services and has the effect of promoting reading not only in the archipelago but elsewhere.

Sweden also has library buses that bring books to people in other rural and remote areas. Despite all the good it does, Anderhagen told Literary Hub that if the regional library cuts the funding for the boat, there will be no more bokbåten.

The bokbåten isn't unique to Sweden. Norway has one too, called the Epos and Finland used to have one. It was discontinued after 30 years of service in 2018 after Finland built a new $11 million public library. Sweden's floating library is a national treasure and would be sorely missed if it stopped sailing.

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