February 17, 2018

Karen Greene | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Community Builders

Karen Greene


Librarian, Pima County Public Library,
Tucson, AZ


MLS, University of Pittsburgh, 1993


Biking, gardening, paints children’s book characters on her car, runs a monthly adult spelling bee


PimaCountyBookbike (Facebook)

Photo by Randy Metcalf

On the Move

Known as “The Librarian on the Move,” Greene has a vision “to pair the promotion of alternate modes of travel with literacy and to make reading more visible and available,” writes nominator Lisa Bunker, electronic resources librarian at Pima County Public Library (PCPL). Inspired by similar projects in Illinois, Greene founded the first-ever public library–sponsored Bookbike program in January 2012, giving free books to people of all ages at various stops and events in Tucson. As of this January, 1,064 miles have been pedaled on the library’s fleet of three bikes, and nearly 40,000 books given away to nearly 39,000 individuals. While the stats are impressive, Greene emphasizes that “it’s really about the personal stories and connections.”

Greene also has had significant community impact with the Books on Wheels program, serving homebound residents. In partnership with the Pima County Bike Ambassadors, Greene helps train volunteers who select and deliver books by bicycle. “This project makes my heart sing,” she says. “One of the customers has called the program a lifesaver.”

To complement the Bookbike and Books on Wheels programs, Greene connected with the Downtown Tucson Lions Club, which now supplies the Bookbikes and most PCPL branches with free reading glasses. Through this partnership, the libraries distribute over 250 pairs of reading glasses a month. “That is a true treat to…tell someone who says he doesn’t want a book because he can’t see so well [that] we have a pair of reading glasses that will help change his world,” Greene says.

Tying in with her passion for alternative transportation is sustainability in libraries. Greene helps organize annual swap events at the library through the Freecycle™ Network; community members bring items they no longer need and in turn can take home something new to them. Greene helped PCPL become one of the first workplaces in Tucson to participate in the Scraps on Scraps composting program, keeping organic matter from the library trash out of landfills. She also worked on a library team to transform neglected planters in front of the main library into useful small garden spaces. “I’m actually a super shy person,” says Greene. “But if you put a book or some seeds in my hand, I can chat with anyone.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.