She politely greeted everyone with a gleaming smile as children and adults gravitated toward her colorful cart. Her contagious laughter spilled onto everyone around her. She happily handed a glossy new book to an excited child. She lets out a sigh of satisfaction.
Ednita Kelly rides around the greater Los Angeles area on a custom made bicycle, filled with books for the Los Angeles Public Library. Kelly explains how she single handedly made the program flourish with some innovative thinking.
“I wrote a grant through the Los Angeles Public Library Foundation to think outside the box as far as library services that we can offer to the community,” Kelly said. “Since I was already riding my bike to work and to schools, I thought it would be fun to have something on my bike that said Los Angeles Public Library. I saw other libraries had book bikes and so I wanted one for us.”
The United States Department of Education cites 32 million adults that cannot read in this country. That is 14 percent of the total population. There is also 21 percent of adults who can barely read above a fifth grade level. Currently, there are 774 million people nationwide that cannot read, 19 percent of those being high school graduates. Kelly explains that programs like the LAPL book bike try to bridge the gap that underprivileged areas around the city may experience.
“One of the things I’m trying to is promote literacy and making reading fun, because I do notice when I go to schools a lot of children are reading below grade level,” Kelly said.
Kelly is currently the only person that runs this mobile library through LAPL for the San Pedro branch. She rides on a custom-made cargo bike that folds out and becomes a display table. The bicycle is adorned with the LAPL logo.
“This bike was custom made bike out of Philadelphia by a company named Haley Tricycles,” she said. “It holds 200 pounds of books, and displays 200 pounds of books as well. I give away give away free books in the community. It’s always one book per person, and while they grab one I ask them if they have their library card to promote the library, and tell them about the free programs we have in our branches.”
Those who have received free books from the book bike know the importance of reading, especially to young children in their formative years.
Erica Diaz, mother of three, says that reading is very important in her household.
“We have to teach the kids,” Diaz said. “I read to my son in Spanish at the very least. I can’t speak English very well, but I think if I read to him in any language it will get him excited about reading.”
Janet Rivas, mother of a seven-year-old boy also agrees. She thinks it is up to the parents to instill these kinds of values in their children.
“We have to take advantage of this kind of program,” Rivas said. “Maybe tomorrow it will be gone. But if our kids see us reading then they will want to read also. He’ll probably end up teaching me.”
But the book bike does not just cater to children, this is meant to get everyone to pick up a book for free and peak their interests.
“It brings people together. Its a major ice breaker, and its a lot funner then if I were sitting behind a desk. This is an all ages thing. I try to tailor my presentation to whatever ages I’m talking to. I carry young adult books and mystery books for older adults,” she says.
It is clear that Kelly has a passion, for not only reading, but giving back to the community. This program was made possible through a grant and through generous donations. More book bikes could potentially be on the way in your neighborhood in the next few years. If you are interested in learning more visit Los Angeles Public Library or simply go to a public library. You can also donate books for this cause at any library.