Chicago Transformed Its Busiest Train Into A Moving Library To Promote Literacy

Because illiteracy is a major problem in the Windy City, the Chicago Transit Authority launched the ‘Books on the L’ program to encourage more passengers to read.


Chicago may be known for its poor education system and rife gang violence, but there’s another issue plaguing the Windy City few are aware of: illiteracy.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 79% of Chicago 8th graders are not proficient in reading. And, according to The Whitehouse, only 53% of adults in the city are literate.

To combat this issue, the city recently adopted an innovative new approach to inspire more citizens to read.

For a week in October, the city held Chicago Ideas Week, a seven-day celebration of innovation and local business. One of the bright ideas during this week was for Chicago Transit Authority to launch the ‘Books on the L’ programs.


Credit: The Plaid Zebra

During the week, city officials allowed – and encouraged –  commuters to sift through some of the hundreds of books on the train cars and read while transiting.

As RedLineProject reports, all of the books were donated by publishers, like Penguin and Harmony, or from Chicago-based nonprofit literacy advocate Open Books.

The passengers were asked to leave the books behind once they got off at their stop so that other riders could also benefit from the words of wisdom.

Credit: The Plaid Zebra


By adopting this innovative and encouraging approach, the city hopes more people will be inspired to put down their cell phones and gang colors and get lost instead in a good read.

“It fits in with our general mission to spread ideas,” said Chicago Ideas Week managing editor Erin Robertson. “It’s great for people to find something on the El that’s such a positive initiative. It’s a really positive way to start or end your day.”

Credit: The Plaid Zebra

Credit: The Plaid Zebra

The concept actually began in London with a program called ‘Books on the Underground’. It then made its way to New York City with a program called ‘Books on the Subway’.

So far, the project is getting an array of feedback on social media through the hashtag, #BooksontheL. And it’s not just riders who push the ideas – publisher support is a key element to the success of the project.

Credit: The Plaid Zebra

Credit: The Plaid Zebra

Perhaps other cities will hop on board and adopt similar in the future!

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