MVPL Bike Stop: How to Ditch Your Car and Shop by Bike Workshop

Photo courtesy of  Janet Lafleur

Photo courtesy of Janet Lafleur

Editor’s Note: This is the second Mountain View Public Library Bike Stop blog post focusing on the results of their Pacific Library Partnership Innovation and Technology Opportunity Grant Program. This series is written by Emily Weak, Adult Services Librarian at Mountain View Public Library. 

Our library received a Pacific Library Partnership Innovation and Technology Opportunity Grant for an initiative called Library Bike Stop. In addition to purchasing a free-standing bike repair station for installation outside the library, the Grant funded books and additional tools. We also committed to providing at least ten bike-focused library programs. These programs allow us to serve a more traditional library function: providing information. Infrastructure is important when supporting bicycling, but so is making sure people have the confidence that comes with knowledge and understanding.

Our first Library Bike Stop program was titled How to Ditch Your Car and Shop by Bike.

I met local cyclist and blogger Janet Lafleur when I attended our city chapter’s meeting of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, an organization whose purpose is to advocate for cyclists and cycling infrastructure. During the course of the discussion, Lafleur spoke about her experiences shopping by bike. Afterwards, we continued the conversation; she told me how she bought groceries, visited big box stores, and even bought her Christmas trees without a car. It struck me that a woman who was unafraid to pedal around town with a six foot tree strapped to her bike might have some bike shopping skills worth sharing.

Lafleur also seemed like a perfect person to launch our programming series; she is passionate about biking, has integrated it into her daily life, and has strong ties to the local biking community. Her bike shopping skills mean she has knowledge which is not well described anywhere else which she able to share with others in a very engaging manner.

Photo courtesy of Janet Lafleur

We held the program at 3 PM on a Saturday and Lafleur’s presentation was about 30 minutes long. Her slides were dominated by wonderful photos that illustrated different strategies of shopping and carrying things by bike. She brought two bikes and her bike trailer, as well as a number of different bags, baskets, bungees and clips. She also invited a special guest who was able to bring a long tail bike. In a great piece of commuter bicyclist showmanship, this guest brought her folding bike as well, strapped to the back of the long tail bike. Throughout the presentation, the audience asked lots of great questions, and people shared strategies and experiences.

Last year, our library had a maker grant and this experience, as well as our commitment to participatory programming, inspired me to include a hands-on project as the second half of our program. I found a great DIY bike shopping accessory on a bike forum – grocery bag panniers made from reusable bags. We asked participants to bring their own shopping bags or to purchase bags from the Friends of the Library. The basic technique is to cut one strap on each bag, and then sew those together. It is fairly simple process and let us set up and show off the library’s four digital sewing machines.

A few weeks after the program Janet Lafleur put together a blog post based on our instructions and pictures she had taken, and this post proved quite popular (she also said some really nice things about libraries and librarians).

This program was a positive start for the grant programming. We were able to make a solid connection with Janet, who is established in the local bicycling community, and reach out to  some of the community’s novice cyclists.

Information about biking, especially for those who are trying to integrate it into day-to-day life—rather than biking trails on the weekend—is an experience-based, person-to-person shared knowledge. The best way to answer questions like: Which streets are safe?  Should you buy panniers or a basket?  What kinds of regular clothes will stand up to a commute and  full day of work without being smelly?  How do you get your bike on the train politely? is to ask someone to share their experience. But for those who don’t already know an expert cyclist, our Shop by Bike program kicked off our library’s efforts to transmit this experiential knowledge to a wider network of folks.