Riding along with the Book Bike

A boy in a red shirt sits on the grass reading a picture book. Next to him is a large open green box, filled with books. There are wheels on the box which are part of the Skokie Public Library Book Bike.

There’s something wondrous about traveling attractions. The blandest of days can suddenly become novel and exciting with the arrival of a visitor and their wares, and it’s even better when it’s a surprise. It’s why we love street fairs, food trucks, and even the bookmobile! And it’s why the Skokie Public Library book bike has become so popular. A traveling library that looks like an ice cream cart and dispenses free books–you can keep? What could be better?

Never heard of the book bike? It’s just as it sounds: a bike carrying a box of books that were once part of the library collection that we’re now giving away-–no returns required! Plus, it’s a chance to learn more about the library, talk with a staff member, and maybe even draw with some sidewalk chalk.

This is my first year riding the book bike, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak to dozens of Skokie residents, give away tens of books, and hear stories from people about what they love to read, what they do at the library, and what they appreciate about their community. I can also see how the book bike becomes a point of contact for the library and how chats about library services and resources can be encouraging and engaging for patrons who don’t often visit the library building.

A black bike seat in the left corner leads to the back of a cargo hold on the Skokie Public Library book bike, which is blue with an animal character holding books painted on the back. There is a gray helmet hanging from the handle bars and the cargo hold is open, revealing shelves that hold two rows of books.

“The whole idea of the book bike is to get connected to the community in a different way,” says Katrina Belogorsky, a community engagement librarian who oversees the book bike. “I think for some people, maybe they don’t come to the library often–the book bike may be an opportunity to come closer to the library, whether you’re grabbing a book to read for your kids or for yourself or talking to us and learning more about the library. If you cannot come to the library, the library can come to you, to a place where people may not be expecting us.”

Katrina explained how we decide where the book bike will go: where is a comfortable distance to bike? where doesn’t the bookmobile stop? and where is the book bike most needed? We have visited three Skokie parks: Winnebago Park, Lee Wright Park, and Tecumseh Park. We try to take the book bike out a few times a week, weather permitting. Some days are quieter than others, with fewer people on the swings, playing basketball, or dealing a hand of cards at a picnic table. Some days are full of activity, as books are given away, summer reading pamphlets distributed, and we answer the excited question, “What the heck is that thing?!”

A woman rides the book bike on a sidewalk and she is giving the thumbs up. Another woman rides behind her on a regular bike. The book bike has a large blue and green box between the two front wheels, which holds books.
A woman in a red shirt reads to two children, one boy wearing a blue and white striped shirt and one girl wearing a gray shirt and pink pants. There is a sign behind where they sit, which reads "Winnebago Park" and has a logo for the Skokie Park District.

“It feels freeing to ride the book bike because my job is mostly at the library, so it’s nice to have a reason to go outside and talk to people that way,” says Amber Hayes, communications coordinator and book bike rider. “I was at Tecumseh Park and this caregiver came with her two kids, two little girls, and they were just so excited to see the book bike. One little girl gave me back the books–-she couldn’t believe they could keep them! I gave them some magnets as they left, and the caregiver was very appreciative.” For Amber, the book bike is all about “meeting people where they are. Listening to the needs of the community, showing people that we really are here for them.”

It’s so exciting to ride into a park and see faces light up with curious and smiling expressions, especially for community members who have never seen the book bike before. They come over, browse, chat, maybe find something they like. “It feels good when you make someone’s day with something as simple as a book,” says Melody Sok, another book bike peddler and  community engagement liaison. Melody has ridden the book bike to large community events, like Pride, where visitors immediately recognized and welcomed the bike as a service from the library. “It makes me happy that they feel happy that we’re making an effort to be out in the community,” Melody says. “Everyone always learns something new when we’re out, and it’s great to get to know the community better and to understand what’s important to people.”

A woman an a very young girl look at books in the cargo hold of the Skokie Public Library book bike. The hold is yellowish green and filled with books, summer reading pamphlets, and a brown basket of paper origami hearts.

I certainly learn something new every time I’m out on the book bike. Whether I’m understanding more about the books kids are into these days or recognizing that outreach is appreciated by those who aren’t able to visit the library often, I come away from each ride with a fuller perspective on our community. It makes me immensely proud of the work we do.

Weather permitting, the book bike will continue making stops around Skokie through October. We hope to see you soon!

A woman crouches in front of the open cargo hold of the Skokie Public Library book bike. She holds up a book while her two children, two young boys, look on from either side of her. The three of them are wearing bike helmets. The cargo hold is yellowish-green and has dozens of books inside, most of which have a pink label on the spine.