Pima County library takes to the streets

Karen Greene, right, helps interested readers find material from the Bookbike at the Armory Park Senior Center on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. The Bookbike is run by the Pima County Library and brings free books to locations and organizations around the city.
Karen Greene, right, helps interested readers find material from the Bookbike at the Armory Park Senior Center. The program is run by the Pima County Library and brings free books to locations and organizations around the city. (Photo by C.J. D’Innocente)

By C.J. D’Innocente
El Independiente

Pedaling under the hot Tucson sun, Karen Greene glances at the passing street signs as she bikes toward her destination. Today she is making her monthly visit to the Armory Park Senior Center.

Greene works for the Pima County Public Library and while she is usually found at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, every so often, she relishes the opportunity to hop on the Bookbike and hand out books.

Greene suggested the idea of the Bookbike to the library in early 2012, and in almost four years of cycling, the library has given out nearly 58,000 books to local organizations and individuals.

“I wanted to do something with bikes here in Tucson,” Greene says. “Luckily the library system went along with this idea.”

Initially, only the Main Library participated in the program. But now, the Eckstrom-Columbus and Santa Rosa branches have also taken up the effort.

Greene learned about the Bookbike idea from a colleague who told her about a similar program in Chicago. Although the extensive process required for implementing new government programs initially discouraged her, she decided finally to pursue the idea after hearing about the success of similar programs in Portland, Oregon. As a former Portland resident and an avid cyclist, Greene took it upon herself to implement the Bookbike in Tucson.

The idea is to make literature available to people who are unable to get to the library or who don’t feel comfortable in the library setting, Greene says. Each month, the Bookbike visits several locations including Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, Santa Rita Park, Veinte de Agosto Park and Armory Park Senior Center. Greene also brings the Bookbike out to the Library Plaza near the Main Library on Tuesdays when food trucks are there.  

It’s been nice to go to locations over time where you get to know folks and their reading interests,” Greene says. “I try to set aside books I know Armory Park Senior Center participants want, for example, as that is my monthly visit.” 

The community’s reception of the Bookbike has been nothing but positive.

“People can’t believe the books are free,” Greene says. “Lots of times people will bring books back to the Bookbike for others to enjoy.”

Photo of Pima County's first Book Bike on January 30, 2012 at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. The modified cargo bike, made by Haley Tricycles in Philadelphia, is outfitted with book shelves. Donated books will be given away during appearances. (Photo courtesy of Pima County)
Pima County’s first Book Bike. The modified cargo bike, made by Haley Tricycles in Philadelphia, is outfitted with book shelves. Donated books will be given away during appearances. (Photo courtesy of Pima County.)

While the Main Library focuses on reaching out to adults, the Eckstrom-Columbus branch is also using the Bookbike to bring literature to day care centers. Lorie Karcher, program coordinator of the Bookbike at the Eckstrom-Columbus branch, saw an opportunity to use the Bookbike as a means of getting children to read early.

The books distributed by the Bookbike are gathered in part from donations, either from the public or from the Friends of the Pima County Public Library. The rest are books that are no longer needed in the library’s collection.

One of the most pressing issues with the program is acquiring enough Spanish language content. To solve this issue, the program has reached out to Spanish language book publishers who donate overstock to the cause. Even though the books are not always in perfect condition, fans of the Bookbike don’t seem to mind.

“They always have something interesting to read,” says Arnold Thompson, resident of Armory Park, as he meticulously pours over this month’s selection.

The Bookbike also hands out free reading glasses for participants who require them, courtesy of Casa de los Leones, one of the Bookbike’s popular stops.

As for the future of the Bookbike, Greene has set her sights on incorporating technology. She thinks Wi-Fi hotspots could be used turn to the bikes into mobile libraries, allowing people to check out library books from their own homes. As the program develops, Greene is confident the Bookbike will continue to spread to libraries around the world.

“This program is simple, replaceable, and easy for someone to step into it,” she said.

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