Pathfinder Michele Rowic: Libraries and Bicycles, Harmonious Concepts

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are leading interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

When you think of libraries, bicycles are probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

However, here are some true-to-life bicycle programs that other libraries have run, according to American Libraries Magazine:

  • In 2008, Gabriel Levinson customized his first Book Bike, which he rode in Chicago to pass out free materials.  In 2022, he carries a mobile library on his book bike.
  • In 2013, Athens County Public Library's Book a Bike program was one of the first bicycle lending programs in the United States.
  • In 2020, Young Men's Educational Network in Chicago also included a repair shop for bicycles, in addition to lending bicycles to customers.

Librarian Michele Rowic, founder of San José Public Library's bicycle programs, lives by the following motto:

“My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.”  Peter Golkin, Arlington Public Library.

Michele rides her bike seven days a week, including her commute to work at the library, which she calls "perfect days."

As a proponent of bicycling, Michele has been nominated and has won awards for her bicycling:

Inspired by her award, Michele tells me that she wanted to "share my passion and dedication to sustainable living and environmentalism."  She has since become an enthusiastic advocate for bicycling, including:

Two of Michele's finest achievements as a bicycle advocate have been her innovative library bicycle tours.

Michele's Bicycle Library Tours

Michele became inspired by the idea of library bicycle tours which were taking place all over the world in 2013.  She thought to herself, "I want to do that too!"

Soon after, Michele began to collaborate with her library colleagues in Santa Clara County.  As a result of these collaborations, Michele planned two annual tours:

  • May's Gira de Libro Library Tour by Bicycle
  • October's Library 2 Library Bicycle Loop Tour

These annual tours ran from 2014-2019, until the Pandemic hit.  Michele is hoping for a revival this year!  Keep your eyes out for both programs this year!

Michele points out the many benefits of these tours:

  • Community building: "The act of cycling in a group automatically brings people of all ages together."  Because library staff and customers spend the whole day together in this physical activity, "productive, interactive, and engaging" connections are formed.
  • Increased visibility and goodwill: Participants find out about programs and materials at the libraries they visit and realize "the significance of the Library's role in the community."  A special treat at some of the libraries is the behind the scenes tour of the check-in machines!
  • Environmentally friendly: "People of all ages get out of their cars and move, showing that bicycling is a viable form of transportation to the library and for everyday use."

Here are some comments from past library tour bicycle participants:

"Great value for the money--it was free…I just loved this event. I've talked about it to lots of people. Great way to combine bikes and libraries. I loved the artwork that was designed for the event. And the information about the artwork at each library was very interesting…So many of the support staff were very well informed--there was always somebody knowledgeable nearby to ask questions. This was a winner of a community event!  Please do it again.”

“I liked the ride itself and the information about the public art in the libraries. I also liked that I went to libraries that I normally do not go to on my own. I have a reason to go back to see more.”

“It was a lot of fun and I got to talk with and meet new people as well as seeing the libraries.”

“Community spirit, and a chance to discover the libraries, along with the public art history.”

“I liked a guided tour because I love to ride but am afraid of traffic and streets.  It was a good experience because I learned that we can ride safely through city streets.”

As a great advocate for bicycling, Michele has come up with other ideas for bicycle programs in the library!

Some Exciting Bicycling Library Programs for You!

Have you ever needed to have your bicycle repaired?  Michele formed a partnership with Bay Area BikeMobile.  In 2015, they visited all 25 of San José Public Library's locations.  Each "hands-on-repair" clinic was free.  Teachable moments provided an opportunity for bicycle users to feel "more confident and empowered," as they learned how to care for their bicycles!

During the Pandemic, Michele started a year-long book club, Women's Bike Book Club.  The Women's Bike Book Club united bicyclists "from around the Bay Area."  Michele tells me that the inspiration for this book club derived from the "collaboration between Oakland Public Library and Bike East Bay."  Following are some of the topics that were covered:

  • intersection of bicycling and feminism
  • sharing bicycle-related media
  • resources and experiences

Bicycle storytimes are also a brainchild of Michele's.  Michele is a gifted storytime librarian and you will often find her storytime audiences absolutely enraptured! During her bicycle storytimes, your child will learn about bicycle safety and will experience a "show and tell" of different bicycle paraphernalia:

  • bicycle helmet
  • bicycling gloves
  • water bottle
  • lights
  • bicycle jersey
  • bicycle

If you are getting excited about bicycle library programs, please join Michele on her next Gira de Libro Library Tour!

Michele asks: "If you have any ideas for a library bicycle program, please leave a comment below. We are always on the lookout for new ideas!"