Suburban Station: Nation's first train station virtual library

What is believed to be the nation’s first virtual library in a train station opened at Suburban Station this morning thanks to a partnership between SEPTA, The Free Library of Philadelphia and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Seventy-six advertising boards on the station’s platforms have been converted into bookshelves of sorts. The boards feature pictures of some of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s 80,000 ebooks, 8,000 audiobooks and 1,000 author podcasts. Each book cover has a QR code, which SEPTA passengers can scan using a smart phone or tablet device. The code opens a URL with that book or podcast, which customers can enjoy immediately and for free.

Just as customers would typically loan books from The Free Library, each of these titles is on loan. After three weeks each download will disappear from the digital device it was originally saved on. In this way, with the same ease readers will download a book, their device will “return” the book, and readers won’t run the risk of any late fees. 

In total there are roughly 50 book, podcast and bestseller titles to choose from. They range from classic titles like Les Miserables and Peter Pan to new releases like My Mother’s Wars by Lillian Faderman, Glittering Images by Camille Paglia, and children’s books including Bears in the Night by famed Stan Berenstain.

SEPTA’s Assistant General Manager of Customer Service Kim Scott Heinle said SEPTA is proud to host the first virtual library in a train station – just as the authority is proud of some of its other firsts. He mentioned SEPTA’s QuietRide policy and noted that several other transit systems have come to SEPTA for advice on starting similar programs. Hopefully the virtual library will make SEPTA’s trains even quieter, Heinle joked.

The virtual library will be “open” through April and coincides with National Library Week, April 14-20, 20013. 

To encourage participation and promote the “enrich your ride with reading” theme, SEPTA is hosting a “What are you reading?” social media contest. Through April 16, passengers can submit titles of the book they are reading to SEPTA’s Facebook page or the @SEPTA_Social Twitter feed using the #enrichyourride hashtag. Three entries will be selected at random to receive prizes, including a grand prize consisting of a monthly SEPTA pass, Dunkin’ Donuts gift pack, a book, and two passes to a lecture at The Free Library’s Parkway Central Library.  

The library also includes a QR code for SEPTA riders to download the library’s sponsor Dunkin’ Donuts’ app for mobile payments and local offers. After all, what makes a commute better than a good book and a cup of coffee? 

    • Seventy-six ad boards have been converted into
      Seventy-six ad boards have been converted into "bookshelves" from which riders can choose among roughly 50 free titles
    • Each book cover included in the library has a QR code which passengers can scan to access the book or podcast content
      Each book cover included in the library has a QR code which passengers can scan to access the book or podcast content
    • The virtual library will be
      The virtual library will be "open" through April
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About the author

Christine Fisher, Transportation reporter

From 2012-2014 Christine covered transportation, writing about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments sent her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covered community news for Eyes on the Street, where her work ranged from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. 

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