Over the past year, my role with the Free Library has changed a bit. I had a baby and moved from West Philadelphia to a different branch in South Philly to be closer to home and my son. I started working with a younger demographic and started thinking more comprehensively about library outreach. One of the benefits of moving to a different branch is serving fresh new set of patrons in a different environment and responding/adapting to the challenges that come with a new place. While working in West Philly, I always kicked the around the idea of a mobile library in my head, not in a bookmobile form, but something more low tech, with a minimal footprint that could be easily sustainable. One of my mentors at the Free Library described how he used to roll a book cart up and down Ridge Avenue to get those books into the hands of people who were normally intimidated by the idea the of Library, a concept always stuck in my head as exceptionally simple yet wise.
Patrons today can download electronic library materials, which are accessible virtually anywhere with an internet connection, but the digital divide is an active reality in urban America and book deserts are a real and present issue in this town. Armed with those ideas, and a healthy love of cycling, Link Ross, Becky Shaknovich, and I created the Free Library’s Book Bike program in order to promote literacy by bringing books directly to the community. We gained the funds to purchase custom cargo trikes, built by Haley Tricycles here in Philadelphia, from the Library’s Foundation’s Hatching Innovation Program, a program that provides funds for staff homegrown ideas.
The past couple of months have been a trial-and-error period, just feeling out how to maximize the effectiveness of the program, how to check out books/implement a mobile circulation application versus giving away donations, and other logistical issues such as training staff on how to riding such a different sort of bike! I found the Bike itself a great tool to pique the interest of children of all ages in the mystical contents of the bike– books!– and the library in general. Since the peak bike riding season is mostly over the year, we hope to evaluate the Book Bike program next spring with qualitative measures.
You can find more information about the Free Library book bike here.
Kate Eckert is an artist, knitter, and mother of one. She is also a member of the School Age Programs & Services Committee and is a Children’s Librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She tweets @8bitstate and may also be contacted at eckertk AT freelibrary.org.