Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Maximum Mileage: The Bike Rodeo at Lewis & Clark (MT) Library

Sure, you can use your bookmobile to pass out books.  But why not use it to get kids riding bikes too? Here's how one library used bicycles and bookmobiles to get maximum mileage out of their programming 

Bretagne Byrd is a Bookmobile Librarian for Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, MT. She is passionate about library outreach and bringing services to the underserved, the more creative the better. Outside of the library world she spends her time running, biking, and climbing. 

Tell us about the program. 
A Bike Rodeo is a safety course set up to teach participants how to safely ride a bicycle on a road, with obstacles, with other cyclists, and how to correctly signal. The Lewis & Clark Library Bookmobile has about 30 permanent stops all over Lewis and Clark County in Montana. The bookmobile partnered with the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department, Safe Routes to School, Bike/Walk Helena, and the Helena Bicycle Club to bring Bike Rodeos to bookmobile stops. The first one was held at Leisure Village, a trailer park community, and had about 25 participants and 12 volunteers. As a participants showed up to the Bike Rodeo they headed straight to the bookmobile to get signed or turn in a signed Safety Release Form. Next, they were directed to the bike mechanic where a local bike shop owner looked over the bikes and made sure they were ready to ride. The next stop was the helmet station where if you had your own helmet it was inspected for fit. If you did not have a helmet there were free helmets until we ran out. Finally participants made it to the course. The course was drawn on the pavement in a lot that was away from any traffic. The course was made up of stop signs, people pretending to be cars, and tricky obstacles to ride around. At the end of the course was a skills area where kids could practice riding in a straight line, between cones, and sudden stopping. Participants could keep riding the course until we closed. Each section of the course focused on a certain riding skill, such as, waiting for traffic to pass or correct signaling at a stop sign. The program lasted about two hours, and at the end each participant received free safety cycling material and a free chapter book from the library.

Why did your patrons need this program?
This particular program was held at Leisure Village, a trailer park community, which has over 300 homes with an average of 3 or more people per household. This community is located less than a half mile from an Elementary school. A paved walkway was constructed last year from Leisure Village to the Elementary School to make it safer for children to commute (walk, bike, or skate) to school. Without the walkway the commuter option is to walk alongside a highway with a high speed limit. The bookmobile has a bi-weekly stop at Leisure Village. One of the goals for each bookmobile stop is to encourage a sense of community involvement with the library and patrons. Many patrons at this stop have transportation obstacles and Leisure Village is about a 15 minute drive from town (library, shops, downtown) so we bring the library to them. This is often the first access patrons have to library services. The lack of transportation, need for library services, and the goal of involving the bookmobile at a community level led to the creation of the Bike Rodeo library programs.

How was this program challenging to the librarians?
Challenge 1: Establishing a connection with organizations.
As an Outreach and Bookmobile Librarian I often get the question, why is the librarian/library here? The fact that this question comes up so often is sad, but I take it as an opportunity to demonstrate library resources, how the library is a fundamental part of the community, and the access that the bookmobile has to people that no other organization has. Libraries are becoming more visible as a vital part of communities. We have resources, most of the time free, that many people are unaware that they exist. Making the library a strong and efficient part of everyday life for patrons is essential to community growth.

Challenge 2:  Partnerships with many organizations and keeping everyone happy with the program.
With this program I partnered with the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department, Safe Routes to School, the Helena Bike Club, and Bike/Walk Helena. There are many opinions with a room full of organizations.  There was also the task of organizing volunteers through these organizations. It was challenging to keep everyone on the same page, and get all the volunteers informed as to their jobs. The way we dealt with this challenge is to brainstorm what worked and what didn’t. With this list we ditched several attempts at organization that failed and improved the things that did. We now have a volunteer list and one person in charge of contacting people.

Challenge 3: Bike helmets.
This program is teaching bike safety to participants but many (about 75%) of participants barely had a bike and did not have bike helmets. We saw that the ones that did show up were too big or broken. With this bookmobile stop, I explained the lack of funds for helmets. Luckily, the Safe Routes to School group was able to fund the purchase of free helmets for participants. Unfortunately, the funding for helmets is not sustainable and the group was not satisfied without a measurable outcome of giving away free helmets. For the next Bike Rodeo we came up with a sustainable solution! We have access to a group who will provide helmets for use during the Bike Rodeo for free. With reusing helmets for the program also came the problem of sanitation and cleanliness of so many people using the same helmets. To solve this problem we are purchasing bandanas as free giveaways for the participants to wear under the helmets during the program. We clean the helmets too!

What was risky about your program and how did you address that risk? 
Risk 1: No one would show up or want to participate.
This is always a worry with any program but we advertised well in the area, had plenty of food for the kids to munch on, and set up a very visible area to attract possible participants.

Risk 2: Working with extreme poverty and not a very safe area.
To work with this risk we scheduled the Bike Rodeo during daylight hours, after school, and hopefully when parents can attend with their children. Each participant needed a signed Safety Release Form in order to participate in the Bike Rodeo. The Bike Rodeo has safety issues involved with riding a bike so the Safety Form covered the library and insured some Parent/Guardian involvement. We also had volunteers who worked together in pairs; no one was left by themselves. Our setup was also very visible and out in the wide open, which also is a useful form of self-advertising.

How did you get ready for the program?
We had monthly meetings before the first Bike Rodeo took place to divide work between the organizations. The safety course was established and built, which included designing, making, and painting obstacles for the course. We also had to organize the volunteers and make sure that we would have enough people to run the course. We ran advertising for a month before the event to encourage participation. The day of preparation included setting up a food table, Safety Form registration, bike mechanic area, and the Bike Rodeo course. We ran a couple sample course run-throughs and made sure each person knew the responsibilities of their area.

What would you do differently if you had another shot? 
Luckily, we have the chance to continue the bike rodeos this coming spring with about 5 bookmobile stops. We are going to try and go green with two large containers of water and encourage participants to bring their own water bottles, to cut done on the use on plastic water bottles. We are also going to have a run through with volunteers before the first Bike Rodeo so that everyone already knows where they will be and what they are supposed to do. Another thing we are doing this year is establishing the best physical space for the Bike Rodeo to be held at each stop. This requires going to each place, talking with people in charge, and finding a large enough area. Overall, I think the Bike Rodeos will be better after each one we hold. If something doesn't work or becomes a problem, we fix it.

What’s next?
Helena, MT lies along the Continental Divide Trail that many cyclists attempt to ride in one season without any outside support. While the cyclists are passing through Helena they gather at the bike shop, brewery, and usually stay in town for a bed and a shower. Professionally, I believe that Public Libraries have so much to offer the transient and as a past Appalachian Trail hiker I used public libraries all along the East Coast as my means of communication with family, information, and a dry place to stay for a bit. The hope is to partner with some organizations in town to park the bookmobile, maybe outside the bike shop, to offer use of the computers, information, and a general welcome to our town. This program would not only create a great public library experience for the bikers traveling through our town but also showcase something spectacular that happens in Helena. Stay tuned!

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