The first full week of August (Aug. 6–12 this year) is annual Book Bike Week, when libraries celebrate how books intertwine with bike culture and community involvement. In 2020, ALA’s Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) launched Book Bike Week to promote work done by librarians on bicycles. Encouraging fun and supporting literary services, book bike programs revamp the faded bookmobile tradition and deliver library services to modern readers, often at unexpected pop-up venues.
In 2008, literacy activist Gabriel Levinson began riding his custom-outfitted tricycle throughout Chicago’s public parks, giving books away to parkgoers. By 2010, the Chicago Park District informed him that he would need to obtain a permit and pay a $1,155 hourly fee to continue his giveaway. The fees were too steep, but community supporters rallied and connected Levinson with the Chicago Public Library. With this partnership, Levinson could continue his giveaway without restrictive fees or a permit. Although, soon after that, Levinson relocated out of state, and organizers from the independent Read/Write Library adopted Levinson’s book bike. Volunteers took the newly rebranded BiblioTreka to art and music events, community gatherings, and farmers markets to share books and to promote the independent community library. In 2013, BiblioTreka was stolen and was not recovered. A community fundraising event secured funds for its replacement.
From Levinson’s work, the idea of book bicycles began spreading in the early 2010s, and librarians launched programs in other cities. Very notably, in 2012, “Librarian on the Move” Karen Greene, from the Pima County Library in Arizona, approached her library administration with a plan to partner with the county cycling and pedestrian program to introduce a book bike initiative in Tucson. Now, the long-standing book bike program has an active calendar with visits to community events, farmers markets, and neighborhood centers. Greene’s program focuses on bringing library services to traditionally underserved populations and successfully extends the reach of her library.
Gaining momentum and covering many cities now, book bike programs bring books and library services to communities across the U.S. With names such as Bibliocycle, Bookcycles, Books on Bikes, and Library on Wheels, pedal-based programs connect readers with library materials and services beyond the stacks and service desks of traditional brick-and-mortar libraries.
Book bikes help libraries serve people who cannot get to the library or do not visit regularly. They provide a physical presence outside the traditional library setting and embed librarians in communities. Uniquely positioned, book bike programs give librarians another way to meet community needs and help them jump-start new conversations with readers.
Like Levinson’s book bike, some book bike programs give away donated or discarded books. However, most programs transport a curated group of books to off-site patrons, where they are checked out remotely and later returned to branch locations.
In addition to disseminating books, book bike staffers sign up readers for library cards, renew lapsed cards, teach people how to search the library catalog, and configure ebook accounts. They also offer information about GED classes, ESL programs, job-seeking materials, and other helpful resources often provided inside the library.
Some book bike programs partner with charitable organizations such as area Lions Club chapters to give away reading glasses.
While Levinson’s original book bike had success itinerantly visiting parks at random locations at unscheduled times, many library programs find it productive to piggyback on existing events in their communities. Some book bikes travel to events such as farmers markets, parades, block parties, and children’s story times. Others travel to places where people gather, such as community pools, bus stops, and senior centers. Additionally, programs have found success partnering with schools and park districts to integrate book bike stops into their programming.
By targeting events, librarians can better stock the book bike with materials that will appeal to attendees. Kristin Williams from Athena Public Library notes on the Programming Librarian site, “When we stock the book bike, we try to consider the likely audience. Tuesday Market tends to be more adults so I usually stock adult fiction, particularly new releases. I also get good circulation of cookbooks and gardening books. When I take the bike to the pool the audience tends to be younger, so I bring more middle-grade books and picture books.”
Book bikes are a fun way to find new readers at their point of need, while also promoting fitness and the outdoors. Often, book bikes are deliberately eye-catching, and photos of them in social media posts further promote library services and resources online.
Ranging from a DIY budget of around $1,000 to one nearing five figures, libraries can scale book bike programs according to their needs. Main expenses include the customized cycle (generally $1,500–$4,000) and optional accessories such as Wi-Fi hotspot equipment, tablets, umbrellas, promotional signs, wind socks, and banners. Moreover, some libraries splurge for upgraded e-assist bicycles, and some need to invest in garage parking or secure storage space for the bike. The potential costs of hiring additional staffers to run the program and purchasing consumable giveaways for patrons are expenses to consider.
Many libraries fund book bike programs through their general operating budgets, but some programs are launched with grants from nonprofit organizations. Communities such as Montclair, New Jersey, have crowdsourced to launch book bike programs.
Select Book Bike Builders
Haley Tricycles creates cargo and vending cycles, including book bicycles: haleytricycles.com/book-bikes.
Icicle Tricycles offers a range of pedal carts, including library book bikes and mobile information kiosks: icetrikes.com/custom-cargo-bikes/book-bike-2.
Pedal Positive fabricates a range of custom cycles including a line of bookmobiles: pedalpositive.com/bicycle-bookmobile.html.
Social Media Links to Follow During Book Bike Week