On Track With Literacy:A Hashtag Sends Books Travelling

If you had taken a train from Bad Ischl to Attnang-Puchheim this autumn (provided, of course, that you could pronounce those places if you’re not a native speaker of German), you might have found a book left on the seat your were about to inhabit. You might have concluded that someone had forgotten their book, might even have worried that they would miss it. Meanwhile, that book was intended just for you.

Free time, free books, happy hashtagging passengers

Public libraries in Upper Austria furnished four train lines with books and magazines, a free offer to all passengers. No need to burn after reading – the instructions in the books left it open to readers whether they wanted to take the book with them so they could finish it or leave it behind for someone else to find.

All they were asked to do was share their discoveries on social media using the hashtag #buecherfahrenzug, meaning “books travel by train”.

A post shared by a #buecherfahrenzug reader.
A happy reader.

The project started on October 19, as part of an Austria-wide literacy promotion, and ran until November 9. We talked to Katharina Pree, who works at the library unit of the Linz Diocese and is one of the people behind this book project.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the idea behind #buecherfahrenzug? How did you come up with it and what did you want to achieve with the campaign?

Public libraries in Upper Austria initiated this campaign as an unconventional way of bringing people into immediate contact with what public libraries have to offer. It was inspired by a similar project that ran in Salzburg in 2014.

The idea was to make books mobile, to encourage passengers to pick them up and relax with a book or magazine while travelling from A to B.

The librarians struck up a cooperation with the Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB) and equipped trains all over the county with free reading materials. They placed reading materials on seats and on luggage racks. It was left up to the readers whether they wanted to keep reading the books at home or hand them on to someone else, either directly or by leaving them behind for the next person to find.

This open system has made it possible for the books to make their way through trains all over Upper Austria. We were able to document their circulation by encouraging people to take pictures of the books, of train travel and of public library visits and share them using the hashtag #buecherfahrenzug (“books travel by train”).

How did you get people to use the hashtag?

There were instructions in the books, promoting the hashtag and explaining the project. We also pointed out the hashtag in our press releases, on our website and, of course, via social media. The ÖBB also put up posters at central station in Linz alerting passenger to the project.

How did it go? Did many people share images with the hashtags?

The hashtag was used frequently, both by librarians documenting their book deliveries and by happy readers posting photos of their lucky finds. It was exciting to see what was happening on the train lines all over the county via walls.io. This was the first time we organised a hashtag marketing campaign, and we’re really pleased with the results.

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Here are some librarians distributing books and other reading materials on the four train lines in Upper Austria. Photo credit: #buecherfahrenzug.

What kind of feedback did you get?

We got a lot of positive feedback. Some passengers were already curious when they saw the librarians distributing the books. It got people talking – about their reading habits, their favourite books and their previous experiences with libraries.

We also had some lovely feedback, photos and stories sent to us via social media. One person told us how they’d almost missed their stop because they got so lost in a book they had found on the train. They said: “I only realised on my next ride, when I picked up another book, that I could have kept that first one I had started reading. I just couldn’t let it go, so I went to the library afterwards to get it. I love it!”

The #buecherfahrenzug social media wall on walls.io.
#buecherfahrenzug saw a lot of shares by happy readers. The post on the top left shows the bibliophile who almost missed her stop.

We reached our main goal, which was to encourage people to read more, while promoting public libraries and what they have to offer.

3 weeks, 30 libraries, more than 4,000 books and magazines

Thanks to the public libraries those three weeks in October and November saw more than 4,000 novels, self help books, crime stories and magazines stashed on seats and luggage racks all over Upper Austria.

We’re not exactly sure how many people actually missed their stops because they got lost in a good book 😉 But since this happens to me daily on public transport, I reckon there must be others with that problem.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

What are your reading habits? Do you also think that trains and books go together extremely well? Have you ever forgotten to get off at your stop because you were reading?