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Librarian pedaling for books

Three-wheeled bike will take reading materials, services to the streets

  • Updated

Pima County librarian Karen Greene will roll out the library's nonmotorized bookmobile - the Book Bike. Annie Wicks, left, is a volunteer. A volunteer will always accompany the Book Bike.

No ordinary bike, this one has three wheels, adjustable shelves and will soon be getting books into the hands of people who may not have visited a library in years.

"It's a way of seeing the library in a new light," said Karen Greene, the woman behind the three-wheeled, nonmotorized bookmobile that the Pima County Public Library plans to roll out later this month.

The goal is to expose more people to books by reaching out at major community events like the Downtown Parade of Lights.

The bike also will be stocked with information about library cards and other programs. For example, a general delivery address is all that's needed for a library card to check out two items at a time and get computer access.

The Book Bike will have donated books that do not have to be returned.

Greene sees it as helping to counter negative experiences someone may have about the library.

One really common one - the bad memory of losing a library book as a child and then being afraid years later to apply for a library card.

It's also a way of showing the library's human side, said Greene, an adult services librarian at the Joyner-Green Valley Branch Library.

The bike will weigh about 250 pounds once its loaded with books. Library employees and Pima County bike ambassadors will do the pedaling.

But key to the program's success will be volunteers who will ride along on their own bicycle and help hand out the books.

Greene started thinking about the idea more than a year ago when a colleague gave her an article about Gabriel Levinson, a Chicago writer who rides a custom-built bike that carries books he hands out in the city's parks.

Levinson estimates that his Book Bike has handed out more than 4,000 new and used books since July 2008, according to the website

His efforts have drawn media attention that ranges from the Chicago Tribune to PBS to The New Yorker. He has inspired similar efforts.

Still, Greene didn't put the idea into motion until she read "Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet," by Mia Birk, who appeared at the Tucson Festival of Books last year, and lectured as one of several activities presented by the Living Streets Alliance.

"I was absolutely inspired," said Greene, 43, a former middle school librarian.

Birk wrote about her tenure as Portland's bicycle program manager and tells the behind-the-scenes story of how a group of "determined visionaries" transformed Portland into a cycling mecca that has inspired other communities.

"I really saw the difference that one person made in a city," said Greene, who lives near downtown and loves riding her three-speed bike.

After getting approval, Greene obtained a state grant to buy a modified cargo bike made by Haley Tricycles in Philadelphia, which cost a little more than $2,000.

She's worked with Matt Zoll, Pima County's bicycle and pedestrian program manager, to provide safety training for the Book Bike riders.

She's also partnered with Literacy Connects, and as of Monday had collected nearly 30 boxes worth of donated books. People also can donate directly to the program.

The Book Bike will be based in the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. Greene's dream is to one day have a fleet of Book Bikes to reach more of the metro area.

Greene is developing a schedule of places, such as the Armory Park Senior Center, to visit regularly.

There will also be random excursions that the library can tweet about.

"We might go to Meet Me at Maynards. We might end up at 2nd Saturdays (Downtown). The possibilities are endless. We just need people."

If you go

• What: Book Bike volunteer orientation. Learn about volunteering for the Pima County Public Library's new three-wheeled nonmotorized bookmobile project.

• When: 10-11 a.m. Saturday.

• Where: Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.

• Cost: Free.

• More info: 594-5295.

• Donate books: Drop off at the main library, designate donation for the "book bike."

• Kickoff: The Book Bike will also be launched at the Seed Library grand opening, 10 to 5 p.m. Jan. 28 at the main library.

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