A small group of Seattle Public Library (SPL) staff will be pedaling—and peddling—books on the pavement this summer, thanks to the new Books on Bikes pilot program.
Librarians on bicycles are traveling to several outdoor events across the city with a custom-built book trailer that can carry 500 pounds of materials and display 75 books at a time. The bicycling librarians will hold book talks, pop-up story times, and information sessions at venues large and small in public parks, farmers markets, and at other community events, such as the Pride Parade and PrideFest, Cyclefest, Umoja Fest, and Fiesta Patrias.
This roaming library also has a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, which the librarians will use with tablet computers to show visitors how to access ebooks and other digital services, help answer reference and research questions, and even check out books and activate library cards for new patrons.
Books on Bikes held its inaugural event on May 21 at the TOPS K-8 School. A group of about 26 fourth-graders were greeted by the Books on Bikes librarians as well as Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and City
Librarian Marcellus Turner. During the visit, librarians Misha Stone and Chistiane Woten gave book talks on Pickle by Kimberly Baker, The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, 33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy, and Seeing Cinderella by Jenny Lundquist.
Almost all of the books the librarians brought on the trailer ended being checked out by the students and new library cards were distributed to six students who never had one before, said Montlake Branch librarian Jared Mills, who created the program with help from librarian Linda Johns. The students also provided a number of suggestions for other locations to visit with Books on Bikes, such as a homeless shelter or the Seattle waterfront, Mills said. Another future student-oriented Books on Bikes stops will include a park story time in tandem with a local Boys & Girls Club.
The goal of Books on Bikes is to expand public access to the Seattle Public Library’s services beyond the physical library buildings in an innovative way and to reach out to all of the diverse communities within the city, said Mills. All of the events will be live-tweeted @splbuzz and posted on the Seattle Public Library’s Facebook page, where visitors can also interact with the librarians, Mills added.
The program’s book collection has about 400 titles, which includes best-sellers, fiction and nonfiction, do-it-yourself books, and children’s and teen literature. “We really try to have in that collection what is attention-grabbing and, again, reflective of the diversity of the city,” Mills said. “We have a little bit everything in that collection.”
Behind the Bikes
The Books on Bikes fleet has about 11 librarians and paraprofessionals who will visit different locations throughout the summer. There will be two librarians at each event to provide the variety of services. “The only thing we can’t do is we can’t pay fines, and we’re not going to return your books,” Mills said. “Everything else we can do, then and there.”
The pilot program is funded by SPL with about $1,000 for the book trailer, $3,500 for the mobile book collection and $200 for the trailer sign, Mills said. The library staff participating in the program is being paid through the library’s regular outreach budget.
The pilot will end in the fall and an evaluation will be done in October. A variety of metrics and statistics will be measured to determine the program’s success, Mills said, such as the number of items circulated, new users signed up, the number of book suggestions handed out, and the number of reference questions answered, as well as other hard numbers and anecdotes. Mills will submit an evaluation report to the library leadership, who will decide if the Books on Bikes program should be continued.
The program is unique because it taps into the strong local book enthusiast and environmentally friendly culture, Mills said, and it continues SPL’s commitment to protect the environment.
“Books on Bikes is green, sustainable, and represents the unique Seattle bike culture that people really love here,” Mills said. “The program shows how the library is really active, and really a part of the community, a part of the neighborhood, and we want to be where people are.”
Tops K-8 School Librarian Steve Haines wrote that the visit benefited the students and himself because “it got us thinking about reading and the different ways to access literacy, and how the public library is trying to bridge the gap and take information to the citizens of Seattle.”
“I think that this concept of delivering literacy will spread to other urban areas. It reminds us of the small library boxes that are sprouting up in neighborhoods all across the US,” Haines wrote. [Editor’s Note: Haines is referring to the Little Free Libraries project; it also reminds LJ of the mobile mini libraries at this years’ SXSW conference.]
Mayor McGinn’s spokesman, Aaron Pinkus, told LJ that Books on Bikes “is a great new way to help people access library services where they are. It will help build awareness of library resources and promote bike riding in Seattle.”
In a press statement, City Librarian Turner said the program is one of the newest programs to continue the library’s “goal of bringing users (new and current) and books together for the pure enjoyment of reading” and he said it helps the library meet two of its strategic plan goals “fueling Seattle’s passion for reading” and “expanding Seattle’s access to information, stories, and ideas.”
The librarians who joined the Books on Bikes program were also extremely enthusiastic about going out into the community in this new way.
Dave Valencia, a library regional manager and Books on Bikes management liaison, said the program has generated a lot of goodwill in the community and it’s been interesting to see how people react to the bicycling librarians while on the road.
“When we were setting up for the launch event, there were so many people coming by – asking what was going on, what’s happening here… We had people who were from out of town who were excited about it and wanted to know how to do it in their community as well. That was kind of the most fun about it,” Valencia said.
Abby Bass, a librarian from the Central Library, said there was “a lot of enthusiasm and excitement” at the school visit and she said she looks forward to going to other locations with the bicycles and reaching out to others show them how libraries are cool.
“One thing I would add is it’s also a good way to dispel stereotypes about librarians,” Bass said. “I think people have certain notions of what librarians are and what they do—we ride bikes too. We do not just sit behind a desk in the library. We go out into the community, too.”
Of course, the library already went out into the community via its bookmobile, which it plans to continue. But aside from the environmental benefit, the bikes go places the bookmobile wouldn’t fit—and build more buzz.