People have been mistaking the new “book bike” for an ice cream cart, Eric Cohen said last week as he pulled a waterproof cover off the baby blue and white three-wheeler parked behind the library in Sag Harbor.
The John Jermain Memorial Library introduced its newest educational tool in August: a library on wheels that Mr. Cohen and others can pedal to community events and local schools.
The idea came when Mr. Cohen, the library’s technology coordinator, attended a national conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the Public Library Association. The creator of the book bike, Stephen Horcha, drove in on one during a lecture — and Mr. Cohen knew the John Jermain Library just had to have one.
“It’s a way for the library to get out in the community,” Mr. Cohen said as he shielded his eyes from glare hitting metal on the bike, which he noted will give the library more exposure.
“It’s amazing to us that there are still people in the community who don’t even know we have a library. I’ve seen people walk in and say, ‘I’ve never been here before,’” he said.
The $3,500 book bike made its debut at the Sag Harbor farmers market on August 24. Mr. Cohen rode the cart from the library on Main Street, up Rysam Avenue, to the market near the Dockside restaurant on Bay Street.
“First, when I was riding it over, three separate people said, ‘I’ll buy an ice cream!’” he remembered. “I said, ‘No, sorry, but I’ll give you a book!’”
When Mr. Cohen pulled up to the market, he set up a blue umbrella to keep cool and waited for people to line up to grab some free reads.
At first, they didn’t understand that the books, mostly new or lightly used, were entirely free. But then Mr. Cohen started shouting, “Free books! Free books!” That’s when kids, adults and teens ran to the stand to check it out.
The adults’ books, including biographies about Woodrow Wilson and other former presidents, were placed on the top left; teen books, including George Orwell’s “1984,” on the top right; and children’s books, such as “The Magician’s Elephant,” filled the middle of the cart.
Mr. Cohen said he had to call for backup at the library, to have additional batches of books delivered because everything went so quickly. “We didn’t know what to expect really — but people just loved it. They were freaking out,” he said.
“I had so much fun. It was great,” he went on, adding that the bike is relatively easy to ride downhill and on a flat road, but challenging when filled with a hundred books and the terrain is uphill.
During the school year, the plan is to have library staff circulate books rather than offer them exclusively for free. The cart will visit the food pantry to give out books, and books will also be given out during HarborFest on September 7 and 8.
The library does accept donations, but on a very limited basis, because it cannot handle large numbers of disorganized or damaged books.
“We don’t have the space to store them. If they’re in prime condition, we’ll take 10 books from someone,” Mr. Cohen explained.
Walking back into the library to the director’s office through the children’s section, Diana Carillo, the children’s librarian, showed off a cardboard box full of books she had ready to go for the next book bike outing.
Catherine Creedon, the library’s director, said she used to work on a bookmobile, having grown up in rural Minnesota. They’d take the van to farms and one-room schoolhouses.
“It was always such a great way to have a library without walls and to bring the library out to the community,” Ms. Creedon said. “When Eric came to me with the book bike, I thought, ‘Oh this is my chance to go back to my roots and have a library on wheels again.’”
“It’s a real chance for people to celebrate learning together wherever they are,” Ms. Creedon said, adding that she’ll be taking the book bike out for a spin herself.