Tour de DCPL: Exploring Changing Neighborhoods and Changing Libraries by Bike
District of Columbia Public Library, DC
The DC Public Library is undergoing major transformation with newly built or renovated libraries throughout the city. Library staff found that a unique way to share these changes and engage the growing cyclist community was to explore libraries by bike. The Tour de DCPL is now in its fourth year.
Washington, D.C. has a very active and vocal cyclist community. The city is home to miles of bike lanes, innovative bike shops and the nation's premier bike sharing system, Capital Bikeshare. Every year cyclists in the metropolitan D.C. region come out in droves on Bike to Work Day to advocate for safer bike commuting in the city. In 2010, DC Public Library staff determined we needed to do more to engage local cyclists and connect with them through library programs and services. National Bike Month is in May and the library hosts film screenings, volunteer-led bike repair, informational programs and the Tour de DCPL bike ride. The Tour de DCPL is not simply a recreational bike ride, but a means to explore how D.C. neighborhood libraries are connected to their communities and the changing city as a whole. The ride is a great way to experience the developments taking place inside and outside the libraries. We stop at a combination of older, temporary and newly opened libraries. Ride participants are always as impressed by the buildings they visit as they are with the programs and services in the library and the staff they meet. We begin each Tour de DCPL with a combination of casual library users and avid bicyclists, and we end with a group of public library advocates.
Each year a group of library staff get together to map out the Tour de DCPL route. The process of choosing which libraries to highlight is a collaborative effort between front line staff and library administration. Knowing if a library will be closed for renovation or perhaps is on the brink of reopening, factors into route decisions. The bike ride should be challenging itself and rewarding physically, but what happens inside the library is equally as important. Branch managers assign staff at their location to assist the day of the bike ride. The staff organize unique programs and events at each location as well as identify neighborhood histories and special building or architectural features to highlight. The library advertises the ride on the library's website, neighborhood and cycling listservs and blogs, Facebook, Twitter and with flyers at area bike shops. Library materials covering topics like bike repair, local bike trails and biographies of cyclists are on display at each library location along the route. Many Tour de DCPL participants are not library cardholders at the beginning of the ride and filling out library card registrations is first on the agenda. Often by the end of the ride, not only do all participants have cards, but many have checked out at least one item for the library's collection.
Interest and participation in Tour de DCPL grows each year and with that so does the support we receive from other agencies and partners. The 2012 ride was featured in the local Washington Examiner newspaper with the reporter joining us for the ride. Additionally, the Metropolitan Police Department sent officers, on bike, along for the ride, keeping the participants safe from traffic and making the ride much more enjoyable. New routes every year mean different communities to explore and library programs to highlight. In 2011, riders got a sneak peek at the newly renovated Georgetown Library's Peabody room - a local history room for the Georgetown neighborhood. At the time the room was closed to the public, so having the sneak peek made the ride feel special. In 2013, we plan to include more neighborhood histories and "behind-the-scenes" experiences during the bike ride. The library's Friends groups are strong supporters of Tour de DCPL. They provide snacks, water and other levels of support and participation. We keep a list of participants who participate every year and bring friends.