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Case studies

Making micro-libraries available across city neighbourhoods with few cultural resources

Mala do Livro – Book Bag

Since 1990, the Mala do Livro or Book Bag project has provided micro-libraries in neighbourhoods across Brasília’s Federal Districts. After 30 years of successful work to increase cultural access for citizens, the City has made new investments to further expand the project.

Initially the brainchild of two librarians, Mala do Livro found support through the Secretariat of Culture and Creative Economy in partnership with Brasília National Library. It offers hyper-localised access to books across the city – encouraging reading, especially in low income households in areas with reduced cultural provision, with the aim of creating a more informed citizenship.

Each micro-library contains around 150 books, with topics ranging from Brazilian and foreign literature to children’s books and comics, DIY and reference books. Selections are tailored to the interests of the immediate neighbourhood. Books can be borrowed for a week, and renewed as needed. There are around 45,000 works in circulation in total, each in the care of a community agent, who will often develop complementary activities such as storytelling.

The libraries are embedded in a wide range of public and private settings including institutional libraries, hospitals, Olympic centres, prisons and subway stations. Some are based in people’s homes and Brasília National Library (BNB) has a Mala do Livro outpost on its ground floor.

Today there are 193 micro-libraries, with 107 in residential settings and 86 in public and private institutions. It is estimated that they serve around 18,000 people each year, and have served around 100,000 readers over the lifetime of the project to date. Each reading agent receives an average of 45 visits per year.

The programme received a new investment of R$1.2 million for expansion in 2021-22. Part of this will fund the creation of new shelf boxes for the libraries, with a bidding process now underway. It will also support a programme of training for 500 community agents, whether they are private individuals or attached to institutions, so that the programme can consistently offer high quality services. Mala do Livro will also be used as a starting point for a wider programme – including reading groups, meetings with authors, handicraft, storytelling and theatre workshops.

Through these new additions, the Book Bag project will act as a gateway not just to books and literacy, but to widening social and cultural opportunities in every neighbourhood of Brasília.