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Five questions for Ednita Kelly

ednita kelly

Ednita Kelly. Photo: Christina Gandolfo

For Los Angeles–area librarian Ednita Kelly — founder of the Los Angeles Public Library Book Bike and a 2016 City of Los Angeles Pioneer Women of the Year honoree — cycling is a year-round endeavor (the weather!). Her mission: to bring books to as many people in her community as possible. #LibrarianswithSuperpowers

1. What exactly is the LAPL Book Bike?

EK: The LAPL Book Bike is Los Angeles Public Library’s human-powered outreach tool. You might see it at an elementary school, CicLAvia (open street event), the Farmers Market, riding in the LA Pride Parade, or in a music video. When you encounter the Book Bike, you are offered a free book and conversation about library services. We’ll even sign you up for a library card if you don’t have one and invite you to the local library for programs that might interest you. Just recently, we have even started hosting community bike rides!

2. When and how did you get started?

EK: I’ve been a children’s librarian since 2006, and in 2009 I began riding my bike to work and to do my school visits. I started thinking that it would be fun to have a Los Angeles Public Library–branded cargo bike to take to schools so that I could represent on the way to and from. Around that time, our Library Foundation was funding mini-grants for innovative ideas. After doing a lot of research, I found a few book bikes around the world [including one in Cambridge, MA, started by Friend of The Horn Book Liz Phipps Soeiro] and began reaching out to them to learn what was working and to see how I could bring one to LAPL. Once I learned the IDEAS Mini-Grant was approved, we placed our order, received the bike in the fall of 2014, and we’ve been pedaling ever since. Last year we added a second Book Bike, and any day now a third will begin pedaling. Eventually, I would love for each of our regions to have a book bike. The need is there.

3. How do you choose which books to bring? Are there certain types of books that lend themselves best to the program?

EK: All of the books we give away are either from donations or discarded library books. I choose books based on the event I’m going to or the age/interest of the people I am visiting. I learned early on that children’s books are the most popular but also the most difficult to collect. New readers are especially hard on their books, so when gently used children’s books get donated to the library, everyone knows to set them aside for the Book Bike. We never have enough Spanish books, so those go quickly too.

4. How does your LA Book Bike compare to others around the country? Are there unique challenges?

EK: Well, for one, being in Los Angeles means we can ride year round. Being a children’s librarian, I really love taking the bike to schools, onto the playgrounds, or into classrooms. I love that our Book Bike is one of a handful whose focus leans toward youth. Another unique aspect is that our Book Bike has its own social media pages (@LAPLBookBike on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram). This was intentional to get community interest going and to connect with people and nonprofit organizations I meet at events, and to give the Book Bike some personality.

We do have a few challenges. For one, Los Angeles is huge and there are outdoor events year round. I wish we could do them all. Thank goodness we have a delivery system and the Book Bikes fit on our delivery trucks, otherwise I would only be able to do events surrounding my local branch.

Another challenge is storage for the book donations and weeded books. Thankfully I work in a larger branch so I have been able to commandeer unused shelving. Unfortunately during slower Book Bike periods, I hold off on weeding projects until I have the space to put the discarded books since I want to put those books in kids’ hands.

People always ask why I don’t have a motor on the Book Bike. Although the town I ride in is hilly, I get satisfaction out of the kids seeing me put out effort to bring them books and spread library joy. I want them to know that I think they are worth it.

5. What’s the best part about what you do?

EK: Riding the LAPL Book Bike has made a job I already loved even more exciting! I’ve met so many interesting people through the Book Bike and I love being a part of the ever-growing “Biking Librarians” movement (find us on Facebook) — there is a definite camaraderie there. Just like working in a public library can be unpredictable, I have to be ready and up for anything when I’m on the Book Bike. Every single ride is an adventure! Also, I’m a bit of a homebody, so the Book Bike has given me an excuse to explore Los Angeles in a way I never had before.

From the April 2017 Spring News edition of The Horn Book Herald.

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Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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Comments

  1. Tracy Collins says:

    LOVE, Love, love this!!!!! Such a great idea & I can only imagine how kids/families feel when they see this coming their way! I will admit that modern technology is wonderful, but there is nothing like simple ways of approaching & connecting with people.

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