These 'book ninjas' give commuters free books to read while they ride.

Reading is an empowering way to spread joy and wonder. Combine that with the reach and traffic of public transit, and you’ve got a mobile library that can bring the printed word to thousands of people.

That’s exactly what Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus thought when they started Books on the Rail, a mobile lending library that has been sweeping through the Melbourne Metro in Australia.

Berg and Kalus are best friends and self-proclaimed bookaholics. They have styled themselves as "book ninjas" with this project in which they secretly stash books on public trains with stickers on them instructing passersby: "Take this book, read it, then return it for someone else to enjoy!"


Berg (left) and Kalus. Photo by Books on the Rail.

"When we launched in April of this year," Berg and Kalus said in an email, "we never could have anticipated how much support we’d receive from authors, publishers and commuters and we are so humbled."

They promote their book-sharing efforts and connect with their transitory community through social media.

People have taken to posting photos of books they’ve found, and there has even been a burgeoning online community of people who've found the books who now participate in a book club.

The initiative was inspired by Hollie Fraser, the founder of New York's Books on the Subway as well as London's Books on the Underground.

So far, they have received over 160 emails from people eager to become book ninjas too.

They've also heard from people interested in getting their schools or book clubs involved as well as from authors and publishers looking to get their books in circulation.

Books on the Rail recently introduced a library-slip type of program in which readers leave behind reviews on cards in the books for future readers to see.

Books on the Rail has already received books and support from many publishers and authors ranging from Pan Macmillan to Harper Collins and from Alain De Botton to Liane Moriarty. Now, they are looking to work with Melbourne Metro and other organizations to help grow their program, which is currently self-funded and operated.

The Melbourne Rail has about 415,000 daily riders every day. That's a lot of books for people to read and share.

With interest in Books on the Rail spreading far beyond Melbourne, the duo hopes to spread the program far and wide in Australia.

"We hope to create a movement where the community drives the initiative, rather than just us," wrote Berg and Kalus. "We’re already starting to see this happen on social media, which is very exciting! Hopefully in the future, every time you travel on public transport you’ll spot a Books on the Rail book!"

Cheers to these amazing women who are helping to spread amazing books and create an amazing community of avid readers in a city of millions. Amazing.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less