2014 Grants Challenge

Bicycle Libraries: The Class of 2050

Libros Schmibros will roll out bicycle libraries to irrigate the book deserts of Los Angeles!


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Libros Schmibros will roll out bicycle libraries to irrigate the book deserts of Los Angeles!

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

San Gabriel Valley


Our project will benefit Boyle Heights in particular and, through its emphasis on connection, Greater Los Angeles just as much.

What is your idea/project in more detail?

" adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as 2050.” -- last words, George Orwell’s 1984

Libros Schmibros proposes to roll out a fleet of “bespoke" Bicycle Libraries to circulate books citywide at farmers markets, grocery stores, loncheras and other Metro-adjacent congregating spaces, all staffed by the Class of 2050, a specially fielded cadre of student interns and volunteers. In collaboration with several local schools, bicycle experts, Metro, and Homeboy Industries, we aim to mentor a replenishable squadron of young cyclists, riding hard for literature against the forces of disconnection and loneliness.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Each Bicycle Library will carry a carefully curated precious cargo of approximately 25 books reflecting our most popular Boyle Heights inventory. This selection will emphasize books about Los Angeles, children’s books, genre fiction, counterculture staples, classic syllabus mainstays, and Latin American literature -- in both translation and the original language wherever possible. As with the foodtruck phenomenon, Bicycle Library appearances will be heavily promoted via social media. The bicycles will be powered by a team of 20 student volunteers.

In Fall 2014, we’ll field our Class of 2050 from our partner schools and refine protocols for the program. In Winter, these students will learn to work knowledgeably with our active collection and reserve stacks, talk about books with us, and interact with patrons. Before Spring, they’ll be ready to organize: each student will work with our coordinator to select a Metro-friendly itinerary, handpick stock, and venture into the public realm, where he or she will lend books, start conversations around them, and offer subsidized Libros Schmibros memberships. At least 50% of these rides will be in Boyle Heights and the greater Eastside, ultimately building on that base to reach the city beyond.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

Bicycle Libraries will help make LA the best place to connect by:

1) conferring all the well-documented social benefits of voting, volunteering and civic-mindedness that reading uniquely promotes, and

2) fostering conversations among neighborhoods and people that would otherwise have little occasion to meet.

There aren’t many places where Angelenos are happy to see each other. Strangers may exchange smiles while walking on the beach, if it’s not too crowded, or on hiking trails. Maybe at Dodger Stadium too, provided we’re winning. Overall, though, the list of places in L.A. where we can make a thoughtful, innocent, face-to-face connection with our neighbors isn’t getting any longer.

Enter Bicycle Libraries. Stocked with 20-30 good books, yet small enough to fit snugly under a student volunteer, Bicycle Libraries can go where Libros Schmibros can’t, propping its custom kickstand wherever books aren’t sold – or even readily available. These sturdy ambassadors of Libros will create outposts of intelligent conversation in public spaces, and also beckon new borrowers back to our lively mothership on Mariachi Plaza.

By 2050, the web of connections engendered by the original Bicycle Libraries and their successors will be proliferating more than ever. Neighborhoods that once knew each other only from traffic reports will hold no terrors for their crosstown neighbors. Immigrant writers fired with the inspiration to be found in books and bookish conversation will have found a broad readership, just as immigrants to America a hundred years ago -- in rough neighborhoods not so different from Boyle Heights -- created much of what we cherish in 20th-century American literature.

If 1984 teaches us anything, it’s that the good guys aren’t the only ones looking ahead to 2050. Powerful forces would love nothing more than a Los Angeles full of docile, disconnected nonvoters, easily manipulated consumers, and suspicious door-bolters. A cynic might say such a city is already here. But every book shared -- and every friendship forged around it -- is a stay of execution against that future. Bicycle Libraries can become the emblem of an alternate future for Los Angeles: intelligent, convivial, green, gregarious and, yes, connected.

Whom will your project benefit?

“It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or standard English, as we should call it) by about the year

2050...Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation: when the task had been completed, their original writings, with all else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed.”

-- George Orwell’s 1984

Our Bicycle Libraries project will benefit:

1) new Libros Schmibros borrowers around the Greater Eastside who haven’t discovered us yet

2) lapsed readers in other book deserts citywide with limited access to good books

3) less working-class, more wired neighborhoods who nevertheless lack both ready access to browsable printed books and, arguably more important, a sense of connectedness to Boyle Heights and other less fortunate offramps

4) Libros Schmibros itself, with a virtuous circle of increased reading rates and connectedness leading to increased support, leading in turn to increased service hours and inventory, leading back to even more increased reading rates and connectedness

5) our Class of 2050, the cadre of 20 initial Bicycle Library student volunteers, who will absorb more deeply the social good of reading even as they help instill it in their fellow Angelenos.

Underlying all this are census studies from the decennial Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which correlate both educational and personal satisfaction with one factor above any other: books in the home.

Yet ours remains a city of book deserts as deprived as any food desert. The Class of 2050 will seek to avert the disconnected, debased public discourse portended for that year in Orwell’s dystopian future. Instead, we mean to seed a book garden nourished by the intelligence, civility and creativity that good books engender, and begin to make it bloom.

The paramount benefit will be to put more books into people’s hands, to knit up the bones of a too often disconnected, fragmented metropolis through the transformative power of good reading. By serving as a social catalyst and perpetuating our initiative beyond our proudly Boyle Heights-centric example, the Class of 2050 will model the Los Angeles we have been waiting for -- one blessedly free of book deserts.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

So far, Libros Schmibros has laid considerable groundwork for partners and/or collaborators around Los Angeles. We have already confirmed the participation of:

1) Homeboy Industries, to park bikes next to their farmer’s market tables

2) Metro, where we are a Destination Discount partner, thus providing in-kind advertising benefits to the program

3) Roosevelt High School, among others, and their Academy of Environmental & Social Policy (ESP), which will help identify qualified students as volunteers

4) Loyola High School, which will adapt a portion of our initiative to suit their remarkable 80-hour service commitment for seniors, as well as additional appropriate roles for sophomores and juniors

5) Pasadena City College, with further coordination coming from its Puente Program focusing on Spanish and Latin American literature

6) East Los Angeles Community College, which has already recommended several students -- drawn especially from their resurgent literary magazine, Milestone

7) UCLA Volunteer Services, which has agreed to post the opportunity prominently, with the additional possibility of a Service Learning component

8) the Pomona College English Department

9) Flying Pigeon LA, our bike consultant, purveyor, and connector to the larger bike community for this project.

Critical to the success of our collaboration will be:

1) clear, timely communication among all partners,

2) written protocols for volunteering and service hours, and

3) getting the word out so that enthusiastic students will apply.

Fortunately, Libros Schmibros is already connected to every named partner either through teaching experience, current staff, past programs, or agreements and relationships with Libros advisory committee members.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CONNECT metrics?

Rates of volunteerism

Voting rates by race

Adults getting sufficient social & emotional support

Attendance at cultural events

Number of public transit riders

Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)

Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric)

Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)

Residential segregation (Dream Metric)

Access to free wifi (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

1 & 8) Volunteerism, 2) voting, and 5) attendance at events/gatherings: Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia may have put it best in the NEA study Reading at Risk:

“More than reading is at stake...readers play a more active and involved role in their communities. The decline in reading, therefore, parallels a larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life. The long-term implications of this study not only affect literature but all the arts – as well as social activities such as volunteerism, philanthropy, and even political engagement."

3) One look inside Libros on any given day should suffice to demonstrate our ability to provide adults with social and emotional support. Our regulars include the homeless, the destitute and the just plain lonely. They form a small part of our principal mission, but if we can be a kind of literary drop-in center for at-risk adults, we’ll take that too.

6) Encouraging people not just to enjoy our Bicycle Libraries but to take public transit back to Libros in the ensuing weeks will drive foot traffic to the thousands of books in our brick-and-mortar shopfront, where what we offer won’t be limited to what we can pedal. It will also to encourage Angelenos to explore their big, beautiful, sometimes daunting city via public transportation, and challenge transit riders to get off someplace they’ve maybe never explored before.

Beyond the several Dream Metrics already cited, we also expect to address these:

11) Our social media friends, followers and connections, who continue to proliferate (even more thanks to this application)

12) Attendance at public/open streets gatherings, which has risen markedly since Libros’ arrival on Mariachi Plaza. The advent of the Bicycle Libraries initiative will bring regular visits from our 20 student volunteers, and a significant uptick from the 25 contacts they are required to make on their 10 rides apiece. That's 5,000 people touched by this Bicycle Libraries initiative alone.

13) As for residential segregation, Boyle Heights used to rank among the most diverse census tracts in the nation. Now it numbers among the least. A little more integration probably couldn’t hurt, provided that the essential character of the neighborhood remains and longtime residents aren’t priced out.

14) Free wifi has been part of Libros’ permanent amenities from day one.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Bicycle Libraries is the Libros equivalent of fieldwork. We’ll evaluate the project in the following ways, each a measure of success:

1) Each student will keep a record of how many people he or she signed up. Field notes will also be prepared and shared.

3) Each new member will be asked to contact us, whether electronically or otherwise, and respond to their book or to their encounter with our volunteer.

3) All new members will be invited back to Libros, and their demographic and geographic data carefully tabulated.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Lesson #1: Books are a way to get people to connect. This is the basic lesson of Libros, and the essence of the project so far. Bicycle Libraries will be integral to Libros because they will promote connection around our neighborhood and across the city at large.

Lesson #2: People want to make their way to a space that nourishes them emotionally and socially. Libros Schmibros specializes in books, but we also provide community space for the nourishment of ideas and the imagination. The Bicycle Libraries project will invite up to 5,000 more people, one per book, to come back to Libros and connect with their fellow readers and city-dwellers.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Libros Schmibros is practiced in the art of talking about books. We have capacity for training our interns in engaging the public, and we can maximize their enthusiasm about literature and the ways books connect people to each other. Moreover, we have already laid significant groundwork with our partner schools, meeting with faculty and administrators, and talking over the mechanics of student interns. With this grant, we can effectively manage these capacities and create a program that uses the joys of reading to connect many more Angelenos.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Our first challenge is to find the best spaces where people congregate. The solution lies in realizing that food deserts and book deserts align, and working alongside loncheras, farmer's markets, taquerias, and other food outlets, taking our books directly to people.

The second challenge is obtaining permission from every individual farmers' market, especially along the Gold Line. To meet that challenge we’ve partnered with Homeboy Industries, and will begin at once to garner market permissions to ride up next to Homeboy tables and offer books from our bikes.