Monday 13 July 2015

Cycling for Libraries: a fascinating talk about library advocacy on wheels

The Cycling for Libraries project is a library unconference on the move, which visits academic, public and special libraries,  discussing library issues and advocating libraries. 

Our last event in May saw a select group of CLG enthusiasts gather at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (thanks to our secretary Kevin for the very comfortable venue!) to hear Phil Segall of Kingston University, London, talk about his own experience of the Cycling for Libraries unconference. A two-time veteran of the tour, Phil was drawn to the project by his interest in international librarianship, and his talk gave us a great taste of what it was like to take part.

Team spirit – participants on tour. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

In Phil’s first tour in 2013, participants pedalled from Holland to Belgium, braving North Sea cross winds and cycling up to 100 km in a day. We enjoy a snippet of video from day 1 (visit the Cycling for Libraries website to see more videos- they’re great) – there’s something very inspiring about seeing a flood of over 100 librarians and/or library enthusiasts sailing through the streets of Amsterdam. Passion for libraries doesn’t get much more high-vis than this! Stop offs included major university libraries , like the Technische Universiteit Delft and the Ghent Book Tower (Universiteitsbibliotheek Boekentoren Gent), as well as more unusual libraries, such as Affligen Monastery Library, and the Haarlem Stationbibliotheek, one of a developing network of libraries based in railway stations around Holland. Participants were able to make a real push for support for public libraries when they met with Dutch MEPs at the Hague, and members of the European parliament in Brussels, with 214 signing their written declaration calling for recognition of the essential services provided by public libraries. 

Library advocacy – participants at the European Parliament. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

 Phil’s second tour in 2014, organised by Cyclo-Biblio, again put the importance of public library advocacy at the head of its agenda. From Montpellier the participants followed the Rhone to Lyon, ending up at the bilingual World Library and Information Conference in August. In a tour that embraced both rural and urban visits, visits included the Mediatheque Centrale Emile Zola, the University Library at Lyon and (in a side-step from libraries, but one very relevant to the participants) a vineyard and bicycle museum.

One of Phil’s many great tour photos shows a participant collapsed in (triumphant) exhaustion, but it’s clear the physical challenge is offset by the fun of seeing so many and so varied a collection of libraries, from mobile libraries to museum libraries, and by the brilliant learning opportunities provided along the way. It’s fascinating to see how in Holland (where many public libraries are not free of charge for adults) libraries are pushing their services through bold advertising – if only UK libraries had such a great billboard presence – and trying to bring books to the public by setting up libraries where there’s a ready audience – not only in train stations but even at Amsterdam airport. Seeing how different libraries use their data and manage their services is a great source of inspiration.

 Where can a chicken find out about her eggs…? Eye-catching library advertising from Holland. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

 As Phil has shown us, an unconference on wheels - simultaneously an advocacy drive, a learning experience and a leisure trip – might have its fair share of challenges (the video of the intrepid cyclists crossing a main junction in France is, frankly, a little daunting – luckily road captains are on hand to halt the traffic!), but from what we saw in this great presentation, the rewards are more than worth the effort.

Contributed by Emily Downes, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Library.

Visit the project's website here: