Beset by budget cutbacks, library outreach is increasingly rare, leaving it to citizens to pick up the slack and encourage reading in their communities.
Gabriel Levinson is one such citizen. Since 2008, he has rode his custom-built Book Bike into public parks across Chicago every weekend, weather permitting. Heading from park to park, Levinson distributes books donated by publishers to anyone interested.
Inspired by the literary activism efforts of Dave Eggers’ 826 organization, Levinson set out in 2008 to merge his “two passions, cycling and reading. It seemed natural to me–just as the right to read provides limitless potential for a person, a bike allows you to go just about anywhere. Being on a bike is freedom to me.”“Free” is baked into the Book Bike’s mission statement: Levinson only appears at public parks and free events, ensuring that there is no barrier to entry. As he explains, “the mission is to build and cherish a private library regardless of class or economic state, which is why the Book Bike is only at public parks. It’s a place where every single person, whether you have a roof over your head or don’t, has the right and privilege to be.”
“I believe that one of the greatest gifts of being alive, of being human, is that of literacy. If you can read, your world suddenly becomes wide open, all knowledge is at your fingertips and there is no telling where that can lead someone in life. ‘Teach a man to fish’ is such a tired maxim. Why can’t the common phrase be ‘teach a person to read’?”
Levinson has two goals: to create more readers and more consumers for beleaguered publishers. “The idea is that I’ll put a book in your hand,” he says. “Maybe you’ll want to buy a book next time around. My hope has been, in addition to that, people will be inspired to go buy more books.”A custom-built tricycle, the Book Bike’s front compartment opens up into a mobile library that can hold as many as 300 books.
“One time I was at Garfield Park, these kids came up and I had tons of books. This one kid asked ‘how many can I take?’ I said, ‘Well, are you going to read everything that you take?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ So I told him to take whatever he wanted, he ended up walking home with a dozen books of all kinds. He went away saying ‘Thanks, thanks, I promise I’m going to read all of them!’ I don’t care what happens after that, to me, that was validation that the whole project is worth it.”
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Image Source : The Book Bike