5:12am

Sun August 11, 2013
Books

'Books On Bikes' Helps Seattle Librarians Pedal To The Masses

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 2:09 pm

By the loading dock of Seattle's downtown library, librarian Jared Mills checks his tire pressure, secures his iPads and locks down about 100 books to an aluminum trailer the size of a steamer trunk. The scene is reminiscent of something you'd see in an action movie, when the hero is gearing up for a big fight, but Mills is gearing up for something very different.

"If you're not prepared and don't have a lot of experience hauling a trailer, it can be kind of dangerous," Mills says, especially when you're going downhill. "The trailer can hold up to 500 pounds."

Mills is part of Seattle Public Library's "Books on Bikes" program, which aims to keep the library nimble and relevant by sending librarians and their bicycles to popular community events around Seattle.

After a hilly, 5-mile bike ride to a local farmers market, Mills sets up shop among the fruit and vegetable booths. The bright orange trailer is custom-made with bookshelves and an umbrella holder (it is Seattle, after all).

Malena Harrang is visiting the market with a friend. She says Mills' book station is "like [a] carbon-neutral library on wheels — doesn't get better than that."

Harrang and her friend are in their early 20s, precisely the crowd Mills is trying to attract.

"It's a really great way to tap into communities that feel they're not being served," he says, "and also, you know, a lot of millennials that traditionally may not be coming into our branches."

And while he could have packed all his books into a car, Mills says wanted to appeal to Seattle's bike culture.

"This is like the upgrade of the bookmobile," says Susan Clements, who's visiting the market with Barbara Clements. Both say they're drawn to edgier fiction, but Susan doesn't have a library card.

Mills taps around on his iPad, and moments later Susan is officially a library patron.

"It's just nice to have books in circulation, easy to get to," Barbara says. "It's not a special thing, it's just like, hey, here's part of your day, like your lettuce or your ice cream."

Books on Bikes is just a pilot project, but Mills hopes that someday it will be a more permanent part of what librarians do.

"Sometimes you're answering reference questions in the building and sometimes you're on a bike," he says. "I would like to be part of ushering in this new era of librarianship that's just a lot more mobile and agile and really responsive to the community and the needs."

One thing Mills won't do, though, is take book returns — he'd rather not lug them back up the hill.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Imagine a library small enough to be towed by a bicycle, and on that bike is a renegade librarian ready to check books out, answer research questions, even issue library cards. The Seattle Public Library is experimenting with what it calls Books on Bikes, trying to stay nimble and relevant. From member station KPLU, Gabriel Spitzer reports.

GABRIEL SPITZER, BYLINE: By the loading dock at Seattle's downtown library, it looks like that scene in action movies where the hero is gearing up. Tire pressure is checked, iPad secure. And librarian Jared Mills locks down about 100 books on an aluminum trailer the size of a steamer trunk.

JARED MILLS: If you're not prepared and don't have a lot of experience hauling a trailer, it can be, you know, kind of dangerous.

SPITZER: You're sort of being chased by a small library down the hill.

MILLS: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLS: You know, the trailer can hold up to, like, 500 pounds.

SPITZER: Mills heads out for a hilly, five-mile bike ride to a local farmers market. When he arrives, he sets up shop among the fruit and veggie booths.

MILLS: We've got books for checkout, some good ones.

SPITZER: The bright orange trailer is custom-made with bookshelves and an umbrella holder - this is Seattle, after all.

JILLIAN CHONG: I didn't know you could check out library books outdoors.

SPITZER: Jillian Chong and Malena Harrang stick around to check out a book and marvel at the rig.

MALENA HARRANG: Oh wow. Like, carbon-neutral library on wheels. It doesn't get better than that.

SPITZER: Chong and Harrang are in their early 20s, precisely the crowd Jared Mills is trying to attract.

MILLS: It's a really great way to tap into communities that feel they're not being served, and also, you know, a lot of millennials that traditionally may not be coming into our branches.

SPITZER: Sure. You could pack all this stuff into a Volkswagen, but Mills says he wanted to appeal to Seattle's bike culture.

SUSAN CLEMENTS: See, this is like the upgrade of the bookmobile.

SPITZER: Barbara and Susan Clements are drawn to the edgier fiction, only Susan doesn't have a library card.

MILLS: I can get you a library card here, too.

CLEMENTS: OK. I want one now.

MILLS: Yeah, let's do it.

CLEMENTS: Yay.

SPITZER: With a few taps on Mills' iPad, Susan Clements is officially a library patron.

CLEMENTS: It's just nice to have books in circulation, easy to get to. It's not a special thing, it's just like, hey, here's part of your day, like your lettuce or your ice cream, you know. Everything in this wonderful city is new and modern. I love it.

SPITZER: This is just a pilot project, but Mills says he hopes that someday this will just be part of what librarians do.

MILLS: Sometimes you're answering reference questions in the building and sometimes you're on a bike. I would like to be part of ushering in this new era of librarianship that's just a lot more mobile and agile and really responsive to the community and the needs.

SPITZER: One thing Mills won't do, though, is take book returns - he'd rather not lug them back up the hill. For NPR News, I'm Gabriel Spitzer in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.