This Beijing Subway Now Has A Library Of Free E-Books For Passengers

Riders can stop playing Angry Birds and download something a bit more enriching.

On the subway in Beijing, as in most cities with underground Wi-Fi connections, commuters usually spend their rides mindlessly staring at their phones, scrolling through emails or playing games. But now riders on one metro line have another option: With a scan of a QR code inside the train car, they can access a library of free e-books.


The books are curated by the National Library of China (NLC), which hopes to help make people more likely to read in everyday life. Working with subway operator Beijing MTR, the library launched the new “M Subway Library” in January.

The idea was partly inspired by a successful book-swapping experiment that took place in Beijing metro stations a few years ago. Passengers were lining up to get books, and the library started considering the idea of a more permanent project that people could access on the train.

Librarians choose from a selection of 70,000 e-books–ranging from classic literature to sci-fi and nonfiction–and narrow the list down to 10 books on a particular theme that changes every couple of months. Books are selected based on passengers’ reading preferences, and most happen to be students or younger office workers.

Right now, the books are accessible through scanning a poster inside the train. The team is considering adding more posters on the platform itself, but because rush hour in Beijing train stations can get a little crazy, they may skip that idea.

The Beijing subway isn’t the first to add a library. A metro station in Bucharest temporarily plastered station walls with a giant print of library shelves, complete with QR codes on book spines. On a metro line in Shanghai, a bookstore launched an unofficial library of actual books that passengers could pick up at one station and drop off at the next. But the program in Beijing may be most likely to last. Here’s hoping it inspires other public transit agencies.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.