Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 13, 2014

TADL rolls out 'Commuting Library'

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
mdrahos@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — What are black and white and red all over? Books — and the bicycle that carries them.

The Traverse Area District Library rolled out its new Commuting Library which will appear all over town this summer. The pedal-powered cargo bicycle is equipped with everything needed to register a library card, check out books or learn how to access the TADL app, ebooks and other digital offerings.

“We’ve been looking at different ways to explore outreach efforts,” said Kristen Talaga, TADL marketing and communications manager. “But we have limited resources for these things.”

That’s where friends, cycling enthusiasts and library patrons Laura and Bob Otwell and Ty and Johanna Schmidt came in. The Otwells offered their 200-pound-capacity cargo bike to the Schmidts’ Norte! Youth Cycling Club. In turn Ty Schmidt suggested lending the bike to the library.

"It's built for cargo and it's got a mountain bike gearing so you can gear it down for easy pedaling," said Laura Otwell, who bought the bike 20 years ago in Oregon and used it in Traverse City for a delivery business. "It takes some getting used to because the wheel base is long, but it is fun to ride."

Library facilities manager Bruce Bennett built a special two-shelf cargo box system to maximize storage. Local design firm Image 360 donated signage and wireless Internet provider miSpot kicked in mobile Wi-Fi. Otwell and Schmidt volunteered to pedal the bicycle, accompanied by library staff.

“It’s just one of those true community collaborations that brought significant resources to the table, being the bike and the pedal power,” Talaga said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without either of those.”

TADL hopes to maximize the Commuting Library's impact by rolling it to high-traffic events including farmers markets, Friday Night Live and Open Space films, Talaga said. The library will be stocked with bestsellers and a rotating collection of books tailored to the bike's location, like cookbooks and gardening books at farmers markets and DVDs at Open Space films.

"We went with paperbacks because they're lighter," said TADL adult services coordinator Brice Bush, who bought $400 worth of books for the mobile library including Louise Erdrich’s “Round House,” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort. “I looked at what’s been really popular with patrons and what there are holds for.”

The library's 80 or so holdings also will include a selection of young adult and children’s books purchased and pulled from TADL’s shelves and about a dozen free, smaller-format paperback books.

Bookmarks double as receipts and let borrowers know they should return the books to TADL's main or district libraries.

The Commuting Library made its street debut June 4 in celebration of the 20th anniversary of TART Trails' Smart Commute Week. Schmidt pedaled the bike along the Norte! TC Rides loop, ending at The Little Fleet.

"We were there for about an hour and a half and it was great," said Bush, who pedaled alongside the cargo bike on her Schwinn beach cruiser. "People were curious, they were excited to see us out and about, that we had a Wi-Fi hotspot, that they could get a library card, check out a book. We had a lot of people ask where we were going to be next."

The library’s next outing is Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at F&M Park, in conjunction with the TC Scoop Festival. Library staff will bring an enhanced children’s collection and books on making and serving ice cream. Workers will promote and register readers for TADL’s summer reading club, which starts June 18.

Talaga said the Commuting Library is a pilot program that could be continued and that could be replicated in other districts.

“It’s always different for each of the communities we serve throughout the district so it's really nice when we have communities collaborate with us because we're constantly having an increase in demand and a decrease in funds," she said.

Otwell is pleased to have the bike back in use.

“They are so positive and excited about having a new way to get books into people’s hands,” she said. “They can do a lot just from that little station.”