Bringing Books to the People

October 1, 2013, Department, by Peter Magnuson

Volunteer bike librarians support reading for everyone.Quickly name three uses for a bicycle.

Did you say recreation, racing, safety or general transportation? How about as a mobile library? Crazy, you say? Think again. 

Bike libraries have sprung up in cities from Seattle to Denver to Chicago. They go by names like “Bibliotreka,” “DPL Connect,” “Street Books” and “Books on Bikes,” and their missions range from giving library access to the homeless to providing easy access to library services to simply giving away books. Regardless of their specific mission, however, they all share the same basic concept, which is to bring books to the people — and this often occurs in local parks during fairs, farmers’ markets, concerts and events.

With a grant from Portland, Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Laura Moulton and Sue Zalokar started Street Books. This unique program is focused on bringing books to Portland’s homeless community. Patrons are not required to show identification or proof of address, and are simply asked to return the books when they are able. Street Books travels around Portland three days a week and makes stops in designated parks.

In Denver, the public library system initiated DPL Connect, a program focused on bringing the library experience to the people. This program began when Zac Laugheed and Jen Morris, two library staff members, proposed the idea as part of an “out-of-the-box” idea contest. According to Laugheed, “We wanted to literally take our services to the streets and to meet [people] where [they] are — in the neighborhoods, at community events, in the parks, the coffee shops, the skateparks, concerts, farmers’ markets and more.” DPL Connect helps patrons with basic library services, provides a mobile Internet hotspot and offers free books to interested patrons.

Launched in 2012, Pima County, Arizona’s Bookbike combines library and cycling information. According to Karen Greene, adult service librarian, the program was modeled after a similar program she heard about in Chicago. The mobile library travels to a variety of community locations and events, sharing bike maps and giving books to community members. In its first year, the Bookbike traveled to 91 events, was visited by more than 16,000 people and gave away more than 11,000 books. This program is so popular that Bookbike has its own Facebook page (

Each of these examples shows how the public library system, working in conjunction with dedicated volunteers, is reaching out to the community and the important role that local parks play in that success. If local library systems can prevent their bikes from being stolen (which has happened in a few locations), you just might see a pedal-powered library on the grounds of your park in the near future.

Peter Magnuson is NRPA’s Director of Marketing.