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Literary travel: Going experiential with books

From a robot-staffed bookshop to a hostel with beds in the shelves, and a library with VR glasses and recording studios, the fusty world of books is finding innovative ways to give their tomes a futuristic reboot

Published 8 Aug 2018, 09:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 16:41 BST
Photograph by Libraire Mollat, Bordeaux

Oodi, Helsinki
Banish thoughts of a basic library — Oodi is a pimped up version. As well as a workshop with a laser cutter and 3D printer, there's a play area with VR glasses, a space for pop-up events, a cinema and even music studios. Bibliophiles, meanwhile, will have access to 100,000 books. Opening this December across from Parliament, this is the place for erudite urbanites.

Xinhua Lifestyle Store, Beijing
This robot-staffed store sells books, snacks, and er, succulent plants. Having preregistered their WeChat details, customers gain access via a swift face scan and are then offered personalised suggestions before a robot cashier processes their purchase. Opened in February, it's the first of 20 automated bookstores set for Beijing.

Librairie Mollat, Bordeaux
You have permission to judge a book by its cover at this Bordeaux bookshop, which has been cleverly using its @librairie_mollat Instagram page to engage with its 66,500-odd followers. The snaps are of customers and staff holding a book up in front of them so they merge with the cover — a playful way to harness the power to #trend on social media.

Zhongshuge, Chengdu
This bonkers Chinese bookstore, which opened last summer, looks futuristic but is actually inspired by the natural world: shelves are shaped like bamboo; faux mushrooms sprout from the floor; mirrored ceilings act like lakes, enhancing the sense of space; while a lecture hall (pictured) resembles a terraced field.

Athenaeum, Chicago
Mix a library with a splash of tech store and cocktail bar, and you have this hip hybrid. Bookworms can check out titles via an app, while VIP members are treated to cigars and top-shelf whisky in a private lounge. It's opening spring 2019, but if you're impatient, there's a pop-up shop from 10-12 August.

Amazon Books, Maryland
The online book giant has gone analogue. It now has 16 US shops, each mirroring the website — only the best-reviewed books are displayed, each with their cover facing outwards.

Book it
You can't buy paperbacks at this hostel, but you can sleep among them. Book and Bed Tokyo has bunks built into bookshelves, so you can grab a novel and settle in for a blissful night of page-turning.

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Published in the September 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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