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Browse, Borrow, Board

What new services could result from uniting public libraries with public transit?

The Exploration

Conversations between the Boston Public Library (BPL), the MBTA, and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) generated more questions than answers, including:

  • "How can the BPL's services meet the needs of the MBTA's riders?"
  • "Could the BPL’s offerings really help make commutes more delightful?"

With these questions in hand, one of our summer 2022 fellows set out to survey constituents about a number of hypothetical BPL and MBTA crossover services.

The Experiment

We followed up on the two concepts survey respondents seemed most interested in:

  • real-time transit information at BPL branches (bringing the MBTA to the BPL)
  • digital pop-up libraries at bus stops (bringing the BPL to the MBTA)

The former is currently on pause due to technical difficulties. The latter is now out in the world as of May 10, 2023, at 20 bus stops around Boston. We've called the prototype "Browse, Borrow, Board."


Key Considerations

Key Considerations

Since one of the main goals of the prototype was to introduce riders to the Library’s offerings, we needed to meet people where they're at (and where they might be for a while): waiting for the bus. Additionally, the BPL had to figure out a way to get riders browsing as easily as possible. To that end, library cards are not required to use this service and readers don’t need to download an app.

Reading On the go

The Library has focused on items that are easy to browse and enjoy on the go, including:

  • poetry
  • short stories
  • short audiobooks, and
  • titles for children and teens.

The newspaper and magazine content includes 7,000 titles from over 125 countries. We imagine these may be the most popular offerings.


The digital pop-up library is essentially a QR code linking to a website. We needed to create a physical presence without getting in the way of pedestrians. Vinyl sidewalk decals seemed to do the job. Unlike eye-level signage, they have a footprint and stick out from their surroundings (not a lot of bright blue on the ground).

The Evaluation

As of Fall 2023, this program has gone statewide! The Lab @ MassDOT is partnering with Massachusetts' Regional Transit Authorities, the Massachusetts Library System, and the Boston Public Library to scale our pilot across several Massachusetts cities and towns. They will be evaluating its success based on questions including:

  1.  After interacting with "Browse, Borrow, Board," will riders who were previously unfamiliar with their library's offerings engage further?
  2.  Does the "Browse, Borrow, Board" experience bring delight to riders' commutes?


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