Public Library Book Bikes: History and How-To

by Katrin A. Abel, published with permission.
A research paper for the University of Texas at Austin
Written on May 7, 2015

Introduction

Library Bookbike fleet of three bikes
The Pima County Public Library fleet of bookbikes

They may roll into town astride the Bookbike, Books on Bikes, the Bibliocycle, the BookCycle, or the Library on Wheels.  They hail from such far-flung lands as Omaha, Tucson, Boulder, Los Angeles, Boston, and beyond.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor threat of overdue fines stays these dedicated librarians from the enthusiastic completion of their civic appearances.  They roam the neighborhood on customized bikes, trikes, tandems and trailers, heavy-laden with books but buoyant with good cheer.  They are the biking librarians and their trusty book bike steeds, and they are coming soon to a community event near you.

Purpose
Book bikes are the latest earth-friendly, human-powered mobile library outposts.  They have been rolling through the streets of America since 2008 and are rapidly growing in number and popularity.  Among the ever-expanding book bike fleet are those of the public libraries in Berkeley, Boston, Boulder, Cleveland Heights, Denver, Evanston, IL, Longmont, CO, Los Angeles, Maricopa County, AZ, Oakland, CA, Omaha, Pima County, AZ, and Seattle.  Coming soon are library book bikes for San Francisco, Montclair, NJ, Rochester, MN, and Austin, TX.

Wherever their home base, these library book bikes share many similarities and a sense of common purpose.  The Boston Public Library Bibliocycle, launched in summer 2014, believes in turning new faces into regular library patrons, integrating bicycling into daily life and encouraging healthy minds and bodies.  Across the country in Berkeley, the Library on Wheels, just a few months younger, exists to serve the community in new and exciting ways and reflect its culture of cycling and sustainability.  Opening the same month, the Boulder Public Library Book Bike aims to attract new patrons, introduce library resources and activities, and educate people on the evolution of libraries.  All share a commitment to reaching new audiences and bringing materials and services to those who may not otherwise be able to take part in the public library experience.

Past: The Austin Public Library Bookmobile

In terms of purpose and mission, book bikes represent the sustainability-focused evolution of more traditional mobile mini-libraries such as the library bookmobiles that dotted the U.S. throughout the 20th century and were active in Austin, TX, during the 1950s through the 70s.  The Austin Public Library Bookmobile launched in October 1951, courtesy of a $7,000 gift from the Austin chapter of the American Association of University Women, with the goal of getting books into neighborhoods and communities that couldn’t support their own library branches (Austin Texas Library Commission, 1954).  It was renovated in September 1953, and its motto changed from “That All May Read” to “Free Library Service.”

APL bookmobile service peaked with four bookmobiles carrying three thousand books each, plus a trailer with the capacity for five thousand books.  It traveled on six days and to seventy-five stops per week, circulating thirty thousand volumes monthly to public schools, apartment complexes, shopping centers, nursing homes, and rural Travis County.  Each location received one hour-long visit weekly.

During the height of the bookmobile service, annual circulation rose steadily from 255,257 volumes in 1968 to 358,346 volumes in 1971 (League of Women Voters, 1972).  However, despite its overwhelming success, by 1979 the APL bookmobile was imperiled by high fuel prices and operating costs, totaling $32,000 per year for each of four bookmobiles and forcing the library to discontinue service in favor of looking for lower-cost ways to serve people.  Three decades later public libraries are discovering a way to serve to serve people that is lower-cost, environmentally responsible, healthy, and fun for all involved.  Enter the public library book bike, originally inspired by Gabriel Levinson’s Chicago Book Bike.

The Chicago Book Bike

Gabriel Levinson's Bookbike (chicago)
Gabriel Levinson's Bookbike, 2008

Gabriel Levinson is most often cited as the founding father of the present-day book bike.  In 2008 Levinson began riding his custom-built Haley book tricycle through the parks of Chicago and handing out free books to passersby.  Motivated by a desire to spread the love of reading and help people build their own collections, Levinson gave away over three thousand books during his first two years in operation (Mikel, 2010).

In 2010 the Chicago Park District ordered Levinson to either apply for a Special Event Promotion permit and pay its $1,155 hourly operating fee or relocate outside of park boundaries (Mikel, 2010).  Support for the book bike poured forth, and within a week the Chicago Public Library formed a partnership with Levinson that allowed him to continue his book distribution without having to pay the hefty fees (Gilmer, 2010).  Levinson also assisted CPL with its One Book, One Chicago program.

Levinson moved to Austin, TX, in 2010, and a few years later Chicago’s Read/Write Library adopted his book bike (Meeks, 2013).  Formerly the Chicago Underground Library, the Read/ Write Library is an independent archives committed to collecting Chicago-specific media created by and for the community.  To acclimate into its new home, the bike was tuned up, re-painted and christened the Read/Write BiblioTreka.  Like the public library book bikes that followed, the BiblioTreka visits farmers’ markets, art and music events, and other community happenings and shares its resources with new audiences wherever they are found.

Upon completion of its first successful summer of promoting bicycling and literature, the BiblioTreka was stolen under cover of darkness from the yard of one of its volunteer riders (Tufano, 2013).  Although the stolen bike was not recovered, a fundraising campaign for its replacement handily surpassed its goal, raising over $5,000 for the cause (Holliday, 2014).  About $1,700 was returned to Levinson as reimbursement for his bike, a roughly equal amount went toward commissioning a new book bike, and the remaining money supported the Read/ Write Library’s subsequent summer of programming.

Present: Karen Greene, Pima County Library Bookbike

3 bookbikes of PCPL
L-R: Karen Greene, Monica Bujak, Brandon Milligan

If Gabriel Levinson is the father of the book bike, the matriarch of the public library book bike is “Librarian on the Move” Karen Greene of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Pima County, Arizona.  Since hitting the streets in February 2012, Pima County’s Bookbike has spawned two offspring and inspired numerous other library systems to follow suit.  In this interview, Greene talks about the inspiration for the Bookbike, its uses, successes, challenges, and what the future holds.

Where did you come up with the idea for a book bike, and how did it get its start?

I was first introduced to the Bookbike concept by a colleague who sent me a link to the first Bookbike, which was located in Chicago.  I was intrigued by the idea and wanted to make it happen in Tucson, but there was a lot of red tape and hoops to jump through and it got lost in the shuffle of daily work life.  But then I read Mia Birk’s book Joyride about being the bike coordinator in Portland before all the bike amenities happened there.  Since I have ridden a bike many times in Portland I was really inspired by her work.  And even though I couldn’t be Mia Birk, I wanted to do something with bikes here in Tucson.  The Bookbike idea came back to me, and I vowed to make it happen.  Luckily the library system went along with this idea.

How did you secure county approval and funding?

I made a presentation about this project to the library’s administration team.  Since this project is in partnership with another county department, the bike and pedestrian program, that made the proposal stronger.  Plus the director of that program came and helped with the presentation and answered questions as well.  The administration team approved the idea and used State Library Grants-In-Aid funding to cover the costs.  This money is distributed to library systems across the state for start-up projects such as this.  The money is not available to maintain projects, but just to get them off the ground.  At this point, there is a Friends-funded budget item to cover all the sustainability projects the library provides, so if we need to pay for anything, it comes from that Friends fund.

bookbike-janetmillerartwork
Bookbike letterboxing artwork by Janet K. Miller

What are the motivations and purposes of your book bike?  How is it used?

We are using our bike in two different ways.  We go out on monthly visits to a senior center, a soup kitchen, low-income housing, the farmers’ market, a women’s shelter, and a GLBT teen resource center.  We also go out to special events, sometimes a parade, and sometimes an actual event where we set up shop.  So that is six places we go every month and then just depending on the month anywhere from two to five additional special events might happen.  Whether we are able to go to every event we want to just depends on if we have the staffing.

The monthly visits came about as we were organizing the project and tried to see what was happening in the downtown area and what groups we could potentially serve.  We then contacted the locations and went from there.  Some places we wanted to go to include a domestic violence shelter, but due to privacy issues we couldn’t do that.  We also thought about going to the children’s wing of the hospital, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through, such as fingerprinting and shots, so I didn’t think that would work either.  We tried to go places where we figured folks would really benefit from getting free books.  In addition, the Seed Library goes on the Bookbike to the farmer’s market as an outreach location too.

It’s all about serving the underserved where they are.  Hopefully they’ll come into the library, but we can bring the library to them in this way, and make them feel comfortable about the library in general.

What was your book bike’s first event, and when did it take place?

Our first event was in February of 2012.  We went to the “Keeling on the Move” neighborhood program.  This was an event created in connection with a group that works with low-income neighborhoods and getting them to think about transit in different ways: walking, biking, taking the bus and getting out and being healthy.  It was a huge success and we gave away a ton of books.  Everyone loved the Bookbike.

Donated Bookbike books in cupboards
Books donated at the Eckstrom-Columbus Library for its Bookbike

What are your book bike’s major successes and challenges thus far?

I have to say of my twenty years of being a librarian, this project is one I’m most proud of.  It has succeeded beyond my imagination.  We have given away more than 20,000 books since we started in 2012.  And our connections with other folks around the world have meant at least ten other libraries have started a Bookbike program, many of them purchasing their bike from the same company we did, others building their own or going with another company.  I even talked with a librarian from Australia who wants to start a program there.  Of course, my ultimate goal locally is to have a Bookbike in different regions of the city, so that every part of the city would get a Bookbike visit, not just the downtown area.  My goal internationally is world domination by Bookbike, to have it be a regular thing for libraries, bikes and books to go together.

When we had the article about this program in the newspaper, the online comments were all positive.  Not one person said that it was a waste of taxpayer money!  Unfortunately, since our recent budget cuts have involved a reorganization of our system, many of our outreach events have been cut.  Since we have partnered with another department, the Bookbike has definitely been able to be a mainstay in outreach, although we have had to turn down some requests due to not having anyone available to ride the bike.  But organizations have learned to ask early for the Bookbike, and usually we are able to make something work out.  It is such a positive aspect: so much fun to ride the bike, so much fun to surprise people saying they can keep the books, and rewarding to provide free reading glasses to folks that need them.

bookbikereadingglasses
Free reading glasses donated by Desert Lions Club

The program itself has been a tremendous success.  We’ve gotten way more positive publicity than we could have paid for.  We take the bike out for regular visits to places like senior centers, halfway houses, soup kitchens, and so forth.  That’s where we’re hitting the folks that are not necessarily coming to the library and we can talk with them about our GED, English Language, and Job Help programs.

We also have partnered up with the literacy folks in town, so we have information about their programs as well.  In addition, we recently paired up with the Lions Club and they have given us free reading glasses to hand out as well.

Our challenges include getting enough children’s books and books in Spanish and having the staffing to go to all the events that invite us.

How long did it take to get your book bike rolling, and how many people were involved in the process?

It took essentially nine months from start to first event.  I started talking to various folks in June, did my presentation to the library Executive Team in August, got approval and the bike ordered in September, received the bike and held the debut in January, and followed it up with the first event in February.  I had a group of folks from different areas—library, Pima County bike ambassadors, Literacy Connects adult literacy group—working on this, but ultimately I’ve been in charge of scheduling, recruiting and training volunteers and staff.  I have a co-worker who assists with recruiting and training.  We currently have fifteen staff members, seven ambassadors, and fourteen volunteers who are active and many more trained but not active.

How do you publicize your book bike?  How do people find out about its events?

To debut the Bookbike, we had a big kick-off event in conjunction with our Seed Library kickoff that drew tons of folks to the library, we did a press release, and I did interviews with the newspaper, radio and television.  We also have a Facebook page.  I’m not so good about keeping that updated, but folks from around the world have found it.

PCPL's Bookbike decalWhat does the future hold for your book bike?

We had a generous donation given to us last summer, so we will have the first Bookbike fleet with three total bikes.  We plan to have a kickoff event in April 2015 for that and look forward to visiting different parts of town and with different community groups.

Do you have any advice for other libraries who would like to start book bikes?

Get everything in place first, especially support from your administration to get the bike.  Once the bike is ordered it will take a few months, so start recruiting staff and volunteers and getting in touch with places if you want to do a monthly visit with them.  Once the bike is in, do your training, get the word out, go out and have fun!  I had no idea what I was doing the entire time; this was all flying by the seat of my pants.  Now that so many systems have done this, you have all the info you need to get a program going.  Just do it!

Danette Barton, Maricopa County Library District Book Bike

Maricopa County Public Library's Bookbike
Maricopa County Public Library's Bookbike

Ninety miles away and a year and a half later, the Maricopa County Library District rolled out its own book bike, also a Haley trike.  Here, Youth Services Manager Danette Barton shares her library’s book bike experiences and the protocol, equipment and supplies used at their book bike’s events.

How did your library’s idea for a book bike come about?

Customer Experience Administrator Caris O’Malley and I had a chance to see a Book Bike that Pima County Library used in Tucson, Arizona, and it piqued our interest.  We took the basic concept and tweaked it for our needs.  What were its motivations and justifications?  We wanted a tool to use for outreach that would be eye-catching and also served as a mobile library unit.  The bike would also be used at various rural events to make the public aware of library services in the Maricopa Library District.  It also has a hot spot so we can sign people up for library cards off-site. How does it fit our library’s mission and values?  The mission of the Maricopa County Library District is to provide access to reading, exploring and discovering for all so they can be lifelong learners. The Book Bike is another way to provide access to library services for the public.  The bike is often stocked with library information about services and programs, prizes, books and other items of interest.  We cater it to all ages and because it is mobile, it provides access for those outside of a traditional library setting that might not be able to travel to an actual branch.

When and where was your bike’s first event?

The Book Bikes first event was on October 30, 2013.  It was a community event near our Guadalupe Branch Library entitled “Spooktacular 2nd Annual Red Ribbon & Domestic Violence Awareness Night.”  It was the culmination of an entire month of activities related to these two subjects.  The event was organized by a partnership with the Tribe, the Town and other Social Services in Guadalupe. Community organizations had information tables and they wanted to feature the Book Bike instead.

How would you characterize your book bikes greatest successes and challenges thus far?

The greatest successes have been a much more visible library presence in events we previously have not been able to participate in.  This includes riding the Book Bike in parades, biking events and sporting events.  We even were able to participate in spring training events last year in the city of Goodyear.

How long did it take from the time the idea was floated until the time that the bike premiered at its first event?  About how many people were involved in this process?  How many people are involved with the bike now?

The idea was floated in the spring, and the bike premiered in late October.  There were three people involved in this original process and there are six people involved now.  The Services Team, made up of myself and two others, schedules the Book Bike, and our Facilities Department does the delivery and pick up as it makes its rounds.

Approximately how much did it cost to establish your book bike and get the program rolling?

The Book Bike total with the shipping was $1,800.  It was built by Haley Tricycles of Philadelphia and funded out of our general Maricopa County Library District’s annual budget.

Does your library’s book bike have its own webpage or social media presence?  How do patrons find it on the main library website?  How else do patrons learn about the book bike’s events?

It does not have its own webpage or social media presence, although our branches frequently take pictures at their special events and post those pictures on their individual branch Facebook pages.  Our bike is mostly for staff and community group use.  We don’t loan it to branches outside our system.  An employee is typically present at all times to staff the bike at events.  If a customer wanted to find out about the bike, they would look on our events calendar which is accessed through our website.

What does the future hold for your book bike?

Right now it is pretty popular and gets regular use.  We have developed a Book Bike Calendar which is our system for booking events.  Typically we have two to three events per month.  We are hoping this continues and that employees continue to stretch the boundaries of library/community organization collaboration which will keep the bike in rotation.

What advice can you offer other public libraries that are starting book bikes of their own?

I would definitely say look into how the bike will be repaired, transported and stored when not in use.  The bike is large and requires an open bed truck to transport.  It also takes staff to do this each time.  We have had some damage to the bike at events or during transport.  Since it is a specialty item, the repairs have to be done at a specialty shop.  This can present a challenge if the bike is in constant use.  It also cuts into budget costs so this is something to be aware of.

Book Bike Protocol in the Maricopa County Library District

  1. Branch Staff may e-mail the Services Team with requests including dates and times of events. A point of contact for the event must be identified.  This will be the person that the Book Bike will be dropped off with in most cases.
  2. Services Team will confirm the date and time and put the request on the Book Bike Outlook Calendar.
  3. Services Team will arrange with Facilities a drop off/pick up date and confirm that day with branch staff. If the outreach event begins or ends after regular business hours, Branch Staff will need to make arrangements to securely store the book bike overnight and it will be picked up as soon as possible after the event.  Example: The outreach event is on a Saturday from 8am-5pm.  The Book Bike would be delivered the day before the event (on a Friday), and picked up the following Monday.  The branch would need to store the bike before and after the event until pick up.
  4. Branch Staff may ride the Book Bike as necessary on a limited basis provided they utilize the helmet and follow all Arizona bike safety precautions. Please visit http://www.azgohs.gov/transportation-safety/default.asp?ID=16 for more information on Bicycle Laws in Arizona.
  5. To make the Book Bike more appealing and exciting for outreach events, The Services Team will try to ‘stock’ the Book Bike (while supplies last) with fun incentives and books to give away. There are a few supplies that come standard with Book Bike drop off.   These items are listed below.  However, branch staff may add their own Friends donations or other materials to give away at an event if they wish.

Equipment/Supplies Included with Book Bike:

  • 1 Helmet
  • 1 Umbrella with pole extension
  • 1 Sprint Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • 1 Air Compressor
  • 2 stamps and 2 stamp pads with basket
  • Free Books for giveaways
  • Library Cards (not activated)
  • Various pamphlets and Library Program Information with pamphlet holders
  • Toy Incentives

Ednita Kelly, Los Angeles Public Library Book Bike

Ednita Kelly riding the Los Angeles Public Library Bookbike
Ednita Kelly riding the Los Angeles Public Library Bookbike

A relative newcomer, the Los Angeles Public Library Book Bike, captained by children’s librarian Ednita Kelly, debuted in August 2014.  Kelly, who already did outreach to schools via bicycle, thought it would be fun to have a dedicated cargo bike to devote to that and similar purposes, so she applied for a grant through the LAPL Library Foundation.  She was motivated by a desire to make the library visible to more members of the community and support its mission to “provide free and easy access to information, ideas, books and technology that enrich, educate and empower every individual in our city's diverse communities.”

On her grant proposal, Kelly wrote, “The Book Bike is taking the concept behind a traditional book mobile and taking away its doors and windows giving the ultimate access to information.  With the Book Bike, we are taking the library to people who might mistakenly believe the library is not for them.  Library staff can demonstrate the use of technology to access library materials such as e-books, music, e-magazines, and databases.  We will tailor the Book Bike’s collection of materials to the individual events.  We will educate the community about our resources and service, empower them to fulfill their information needs at the library, and give them a fun library experience they can tell their friends about.  It’s very hard to ride a bike and not smile.  This fun vibe will be a contagious feeling that patrons will associate with their library.”

The grant was awarded, and ten months later the book bike premiered at a community Healthy Start Back-to-School Fair where children received free backpacks, school supplies, haircuts, shoes, and a free book from the book bike.  The back-to-school fair and all of the book bike’s subsequent events have been unmitigated successes, enjoyed by all in attendance.  Events are publicized on Twitter and Instagram.

Like the Pima and Maricopa County book bikes, the LAPD book bike was built by Haley Tricycles of Philadelphia.  Costs included $2,480 for the bike and its shipping, $60 for the local bike shop to assemble it, $200 for such accessories as lights, a pump, a helmet and a rack, and about $900 for a vinyl wrap emblazoned with its branding.  Kelly is currently the only rider, although others have expressed interest in giving it a go.

The biggest challenge in Kelly’s experience has been stocking enough with free books, drawn from donation and discards, to give away.  Many times a single school visit has completely wiped out her inventory.  The 2014-15 academic year was Kelly’s first with the book bike, and in the future she’d like to have a tablet for book checkouts so that she doesn’t have to rely entirely on giveaways.  Luckily, now that word on the book bike has gotten out to the community, donations of children’s books have increased, so Kelly should have more inventory to choose from in the future.

For other libraries considering book bikes, Kelly recommends finding super enthusiastic riders, using the bike creatively, employing social media, making up the rules in progress and treating every ride as a new adventure.

Future: San Francisco Public Library Book Bike

San Francisco Public Library's "Spoke & Word" Bookbike
San Francisco Public Library's "Spoke & Word" Bookbike

Following the lead of neighbors Oakland, Los Angeles and Berkeley, the newest of the California public library book bikes hails from the San Francisco Public Library and is expected to premiere in spring 2015.

According to Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives Tim Lucas, the San Francisco Public Library was inspired by the other Bay Area libraries with book bikes in action or on the way.  Like the SFPL bookmobile, the book bike fits the library’s mission and values by reaching more people and connecting them with resources and services.  The book bike, which has been named spoke & word, will offer a smattering of books for checkout, as well as introduction to the digital collection and instruction in accessing the library from home and taking advantage of all its offerings.  Lucas hopes people will see the book bike as creative and fun, just like the library.

SFPL aims to take advantage of bike month in May to showcase their new book bike all over San Francisco, whether at parks, the zoo, sports games or other community events.  They plan to promote it on Facebook and Twitter, and post photos on Instagram.  Staff will be encouraged to use the book bike for outreach or any other program that fits well with the bike and will be provided Urban Biking Safety Training by the San Francisco Bike Coalition

Currently a handful of library staff is involved in the planning process, and the local design firm the Burgeon Group is handling construction.  The total cost of the bike, trailer and related materials will be about $10,000 and will be covered almost entirely by a Friends of the San Francisco Public Library grant.  The Burgeon Group is already known for making a number of fun structures within the SFPL system, and Lucas hopes that this flashy new addition will turn heads and add to the fun of using the library.

Montclair Public Library Bookbike

Montclair, NJ Bookbike logoAcross the country in New Jersey, the Montclair Public Library has added an innovative new twist to the library book bike scene by utilizing international crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise money for its forthcoming Haley tricycle.  The library hopes to raise a total of $6,000, which would allow $3,500 for the bicycle itself and local design work, $2,000 for WiFi jetpacks, and $1,000 for other supplies, such as chairs and an umbrella (Segedin, 2015).  At the time of this writing, the library has already raised nearly enough money to finance the bike, and it is expected to fully meet its goal.

Montclair Information Services Supervisor Chelsea Dodd had researched existing book bikes and thought they would be a perfect outreach vehicle for her health-conscious, eco-friendly town, where the library is the “center of the community” and aims to remain so.  One benefit of the crowdfunding campaign has been the accompanying publicity, which has increased interest in and anticipation for the bike.  The bookbike will offer checkout of library material, free WiFi, roving reference, digital technology instruction, and drop-off materials for the homebound and will debut in May 2015.  Its schedule and locations will be available on social media and via a smartphone app.  The public will be encouraged to suggest locations for the bookbike as well, reflecting the library’s belief that “it’s not our bookbike, it’s the town’s.”  Its creation has been community-involved as well.  A local videographer contributed a campaign video, two organizations in Montclair have participated in idea sessions and provided support, and the following press release emphasizes the ways that the Montclair Public Library Bookbike is a service by and for its community.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: April 4, 2015

Contact: Chelsea Dodd, 973-744-0500 ext. 2288, chelsea.dodd@montclair.bccls.org

LIBRARY LAUNCHES CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for a BOOK BIKE

Community-driven effort to expand library outreach and services in Montclair

Indiegogo campaign for the Montclair, NJ Public Library Bookbike
Indiegogo campaign for the Montclair, NJ Public Library Bookbike

Montclair, N.J. – What if you could check out library cookbooks while taking in the vivid colors of the Walnut Street Train Station Farmers Market? What about getting help with your iPad, or taking advantage of free WiFi to job hunt while hanging out in Nishuane Park?

With the help of Montclair Public Library Foundation, Bike&Walk Montclair and the Eat.Play.Live...Better coalition, Montclair Public Library wants to make it happen this spring. It has launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo.com to raise enough donations to purchase a “bookbike” and maintain programming with it throughout the year.

“From book drop-offs for homebound residents to instruction on digital downloadables to bringing WiFi to those in need, it’s important for the next generation of librarians to get out of the building,” said Chelsea Dodd, Information Services Supervisor. “The bookbike will allow us to provide the same variety of programs and services in endless locations, bringing Montclair Public Library wherever it needs to be.”

With the donations, Montclair Public Library will obtain a tricycle from Haley Tricycle (haleytrikes.com), a company well known for creating durable urban cargo tricycles. This vehicle will allow library staff a method for not only transporting materials and services throughout town, but for increasing the visibility of the library and the project’s sponsors.

“Bike&Walk Montclair is excited to partner with the library on this project,” said Norma Tassy, executive director of Bike&Walk Montclair. “It is great to see books and media going out to the community via active transportation.”

With the additional purchase of a mobile hotspot, MPL’s bookbike also will enable the library to provide free Wi-Fi wherever its travels may take it. This means free access to internet for the community at parks, festivals, farmers markets, and more. It also means that staff can address reference questions and request items for library patrons on the spot.

To support Montclair’s bookbike, visit montclairlibrary.org/bookbike by April 30.

Austin Public Library apl unbound

Author Katrin Abel with the new Austin Public Library Bookbike, launched November 2015
Author Katrin Abel riding "Unbound," the new Austin Public Library Bookbike, launched November 2015

My own stake in book bikes began when I approached the Austin Public Library in June 2014 with the idea for a book bike of its own.  I was working as a reference intern at the Faulk Central Library and had enthusiastically read in “American Libraries” magazine about public library book bikes in Cleveland Heights, Seattle, Denver, and Pima County, Arizona.  A bike-friendly, environmentally-conscious, literate, library-loving city, in addition to one that boasts a climate amenable to year-round outdoor events, Austin seemed to me a great addition to the book bike movement.  I contacted the Office of Programs and Partnerships and was put in touch with a group of staff members who had been discussing a mobile outreach service, be it via bike, food truck, or other vehicle, as a means of expanding beyond the library’s walls into the greater community, much as the APL bookmobiles did from the 1950s until the 70s.

These staff members responded enthusiastically to my suggestion, and the concept for the APL book bike, proposed to the APL Management Team on July 9 by Conor Walker and Meg Holle, was heartily approved.  Staff who had worked on the proposal and who were interested in combining their efforts to develop the service formed the BikeMobile Task Force, which they invited me to join on October 1.

During the last quarter of 2014, the task force collaborated with the City of Austin’s Active Transportation Division to design the bike.  They chose two local companies to build the bike.  After the task force and the fabricators agreed on a design, the task force proceeded to identify potential community outreach events for the book bike, create a social media plan, and partner with the library’s safety and volunteer divisions to secure training and staff.

In the first quarter of 2015, the task force began to meet in person and via teleconference to discuss the bike’s progress and plan its upcoming programming.  Members Conor Walker, Betsy Evans, and Andrew Murphy submitted funding requests for $2,240.96 in annual programming funds for book bike supplies and $2,000 for an accompanying trailer to assist the mothership with more materials and staff or allow for simultaneous mobile library events.  After a naming contest and vote, the bike was christened apl unbound.  The name is intended for use not just with the bike but with other sustainable and mobile services that APL may launch in the future, including the bike trailer and an outreach canoe service that is hoped will follow the opening of the new Central Library in Fall 2016.

The task force established early partnerships with the HOPE farmers’ market and the Talk Green to Me series, and members Meg Holle and Aaron Negron created an Outreach Calendar for unbound’s events.  In order to promote a culture of outreach at APL, the task force intends to collect usage statistics during all of unbound’s events and facilitate means for all APL staff members to participate in outreach events.

In the second quarter of 2015, the task force transitioned from general planning of unbound to preparing for its launch.  Along with APL’s graphic designers, the team settled on a project image and design and generated preliminary content for unbound’s webpage, member Meg Holle composed a Bike Info Guide, and members Betsy Evans and Conor Walker, along with the Austin History Center, developed a traveling photography exhibit on the history of Austin Public Library bookmobiles.  Conor Walker and Diana Miranda-Murillo branded unbound in Spanish as “unbound: sin fronteras” to provide more context for Spanish speakers.  Articles in the January and February editions of the internal newsletter “APLivewire” introduced unbound to all staff members.

Unbound, the Austin Public Library Bookbike, was launched November 2015
Unbound, the Austin Public Library Bookbike, was launched November 2015

Unbound could not debut on schedule, however, due to repeated fabrication delays, which led to the cancelation of its first safety training and initially scheduled spring events.  Task force members responded to the delays by meeting with the builders to examine progress on the bike and learn more about the building process.  Photographer Michael Wheat documented the in-progress bike, and updates were posted to relevant APL social media accounts.  Ultimately the local builders were unable to meet the necessary deadlines and discontinued work on the project.  Because of its favorable reviews from other library book bikers, Haley Tricycles was chosen to continue the project.  In addition, Saila Bicycles of east Austin was selected to build a supplementary trailer to support unbound’s programming.

Once the bike is up and running and the task force’s mission complete, the BikeMobile team plans to join forces with the Outreach Advisory Team to form the Outreach Committee, dedicated to diverse, modular outreach to Austin’s quickly-expanding population.

Conclusion: Advice for New Library Book Bikes

In addition to the advice offered by the librarians in Pima County, Maricopa County and Los Angeles, other biking librarians made recommendations for those planning the upcoming generations of book bikes.  Berkeley Public Library’s Dan Beringhele advised planners to decide what they want their book bikes to represent, consider their IT needs, and work with the IT department to determine compatibility with the ILS and mobile technology.  To choose events, he suggested taking advantage of those that are already popular in the community rather than trying to create new events from scratch.  Mikel Stone of the Denver Public Library noted that you get what you pay for and will be best off investing in durable equipment that can handle the expected workload.  Determine the logistics carefully, he continued, make sure to have the finances to cover staffing and materials, and be prepared for the book bike to be wildly popular.  Heights Libraries’ Eric Litschel cautioned librarians to ensure that they have not only a receptive community but also committed and capable riders, since even the world’s greatest book is worthless if there is no one to pedal it.  While many librarians expressed a level of impatience and frustration in waiting for their bikes to be built and dealing with fabrication delays, all emphasized that the results have been well worth the time involved, that they and their communities love their book bikes, and that they are pleased to present them as a fun, healthy, sustainable face of the evolving public library.

Public Library Book Bikes and Contact Information

Austin Public Library apl unbound
http://library.austintexas.gov/unbound
Sharon Herfurth, (512) 974-7420, Sharon.Herfurth@austintexas.gov

Berkeley Public Library on Wheels
https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/library/library-wheels
Dan Beringhele, (510) 981-6145, dberinghele@ci.berkeley.ca.us

Boston Public Library Bibliocycle
http://www.bpl.org/press/tag/bibliocycle/
Katrina Morse, (617) 427-3820, kmorse@bpl.org

Boulder Public Library Book Bike
http://news.boulderlibrary.org/2014/09/outside-the-lines/
Kathy Lane, (303) 441-3196, lanek@boulderlibrary.org

Denver Public Library DPL Connect
http://denverlibrary.org/blog/dpl-connect-pedal-powered-mobile-library-here
Mikel Stone, (720) 865-1312, mstone@denverlibrary.org

Evanston Public Library Book Bike
http://www.epl.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=5838:book-bike-expands-librarys-reach&Itemid=313
Jill Skwerski, (847) 448-8664, jskwerski@cityofevanston.org

Heights Libraries Book Bike
http://heightslibrary.org/community-outreach/book-bike/
Eric Litschel, (216) 932-3600, elitsche@heightslibrary.org

Longmont Public Library BookCycle
http://livewelllongmont.org/bookcycle-baby/
Judith Anderson, (303) 651-8475, judith.anderson@longmontcolorado.gov

Los Angeles Public Library Book Bike
http://www.lapl.org/branches/san-pedro
Ednita Kelly, (310) 548-7779, ekelly@lapl.org

Maricopa County Library District Book Bike
http://www.mcldaz.org/
Danette Barton, (602) 652-3000, danettebarton@mcldaz.org

Montclair Public Library Bookbike
http://www.montclairlibrary.org/
Chelsea Dodd, (973) 744-0500 ext. 2288, chelsea.dodd@montclair.bccls.org

Oakland Public Library Bike Library
http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/services/bike-library
Mana Tominaga, (510-238-6611), mtominaga@oaklandlibrary.org

Omaha Public Library Bookbike
Omaha Public Library Bookbike

Omaha Public Library Book Bikehttp://www.omahapubliclibrary.org/book-bike
Linda Trout, (402) 444-4838, ltrout@omahalibrary.org

Pima County Library Bookbike
https://www.library.pima.gov/faqs/what-is-the-bookbike/
Karen Greene, (520) 594-5564, Karen.Greene@pima.gov

Rochester Public Library Book Bike
http://www.rochesterpubliclibrary.org/
Heather Acerro, (507) 328-2339, hacerro@rochester.lib.mn.us

San Francisco Public Library spoke & word
http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000777201
Tim Lucas, (415) 557-4205, tim.lucas@sfpl.org

Seattle Public Library Books on Bikes
http://www.spl.org/using-the-library/library-on-the-go/books-on-bikes
Jared Mills, (206) 386-1255, Jared.Mills@spl.org

Custom Bike Builders

Haley Tricycles - Philadelphia
http://www.haleytrikes.com/
Stephen Horcha, (215) 301-4594, info@haleytrikes.com

Haulin’ Colin - Seattle
http://www.haulincolin.com/
Colin Stevens, (206) 763-1364, cyclefabllc@gmail.com

Icicle Tricycles - Portland, OR
http://icetrikes.com/
(360) 510-1818, info@icetrikes.com

Kick Trailer - Oakland, CA
https://www.facebook.com/KickTrailer

Pedal Postive - Englewood, CO
http://www.pedalpositive.com/
Joe Crennen, (303) 761-9655, joe@pedalpositive.com

Southie Bikes - Boston
http://www.southiebikes.com/
Jon Ramos, (603) 759-9680, southiebikes@gmail.com

Partners and Bicycle Advocacy Resources

Bike&Walk Montclair – Montclair, NJ
http://bikewalkmontclair.org/
(973) 866-5028

Bike Austin - Austin, TX
http://bikeaustin.org/
(512) 773-8775

BikeTexas - Austin, TX
http://www.biketexas.org/
512-476-RIDE

Boston Bikes! - Boston
http://www.bostonbikes.org/
(617) 918‑4456

New Jersey Healthy Communities Network – Montclair, NJ
http://www.njhcn.org/
(609) 278-9622

Evanston Bicycle Club - Evanston, IL
http://www.evanstonbikeclub.org/
membership@evanstonbikeclub.org

Heights Bicycle Coalition - Cleveland Heights
http://bikesintheheights.org/
(216) BIKE-FIX

Pima County Bicycle and Pedestrian Program - Tucson, AZ
http://webcms.pima.gov/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=54575
Matt Zoll, (520) 724-6410

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition - San Francisco
https://www.sfbike.org/
(415) 431-2453 (BIKE)

Book Bike Bibliography

Austin Texas Library Commission. (1954). Minutes of the meetings of the Library Commission of the City of Austin including financial statements, budgets, and librarian's reports. Austin, TX: The Commission.

Book bike. (2014). Unabashed Librarian, (172), 9.

Bounds, A. (2014, September 15). Boulder debuts new library book bike this week. Boulder Daily Camera. Retrieved from http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_26534712/boulder-debut-new-library-book-bike-this-week

Bryen, W. (2014, May 29). Longmont launches BookCycle mobile library. Longmont Times-Call. Retrieved from http://www.timescall.com/longmont-local-news/ci_25859077/longmont-launches-bookcycle-mobile-library

Cornwell, P. (2013, August 15). Thief steals wheels of Seattle’s ‘Books on Bikes’ librarian. Seattle Times. http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2013/08/thief-steals-wheels-of-seattles-books-on-bikes-librarian/

Eltagouri, M. (2014, July 31). Book bike takes Evanston library on the road. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/evanston/ct-book-bike-met-20140731-story.html

Francis, C. (2014, June). Custom library book bikes roll out across US. American Libraries, 45(6), 18.

Gilmer, M. (2010, July 12). Happy Ending For Book Bike. Chicagoist. Retrieved from http://chicagoist.com/2010/07/12/happy_ending_for_book_bike.php

Holliday, D. (2014, March 24). 'BiblioTreka' Library Bike to Return by Summer After Successful Fundraiser. DNAinfo Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140324/logan-square/bibliotreka-library-bike-return-by-summer-after-sucessful-fundraiser

League of Women Voters of Austin, Texas. (1972). The Austin Public Library: A report. Austin, TX.

Lee, M. (2013, July 1). Seattle public library puts books on bikes: pedals to library service mettle. Library Journal, 138(12), 14.

Meeks, A. (2013, June 10). Shifting gears from Chicago Book Bike to the Read/Write BiblioTreka. The Library as Incubator Project. Retrieved from http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/?p=10648

Mertes, M. (2014, August 6). Omaha public library debuts book bike, a library on wheels.Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved from http://www.omaha.com/living/omaha-public-library-debuts-book-bike-a-library-on-wheels/article_cba71614-1ce7-11e4-ba7b-0014bcf6878.html

Mikel, B. (2010, May 12). Bringing books to every man, woman and child. Chicagoist. Retrieved from http://chicagoist.com/2010/05/12/book_bike.php#photo-1

Mikel, B. (2010, July 6). Chicago park district shuts down book bike. Chicagoist. Retrieved from http://chicagoist.com/2010/07/06/promoting_literacy_comes_at_a_cost.php

Sandal, I. (2012, January 12). Librarian pedaling for books. Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved from http://tucson.com/lifestyles/recreation/librarian-pedaling-for-books/article_54f4b8a9-e56e-5cab-9e74-c3bd26f6dcc5.html

Segedin, A. (2015, April 21). Montclair public library launches crowd funding campaign for book bike. The Montclair Times.

Shank, J. (2014, September 24). Bright orange ‘book bikes’ signify changing times for libraries. PBS MediaShift. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/09/bright-orange-book-bikes-signify-changing-times-for-libraries/

Shao, Y. (2014, July 8). The bibliocycle will bring you books by bike. Boston Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/blog/2014/07/08/bpl-bibliocycle-bike-readboston-storymobile/

Tobar, H. (2013, June 12). A public library on a bicycle? Seattle has one. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jun/12/entertainment/la-et-jc-a-public-library-on-a-bicycle-seattle-has-one-20130612

Tufano, L. (2013, August 26). Mobile library bike known as 'Bibliotreka' swiped from logan square yard. DNAinfo Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130826/logan-square/mobile-library-bike-known-as-bibliotreka-swiped-from-logan-square-yard

Vaccarelli, J. (2013, September 11). Denver public library brings books to community via bike. Denver Post. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/denver/ci_24061460/denver-public-library-brings-books-community-via-bike

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