Need a bike? Check it out from a library!

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: July 27, 2023

In Athens, OH, the local library system used a Creating Healthy Communities grant to launch their book-a-bike program.

Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, wanted to be more thoughtful about how to meet the information needs of their community. This started with rethinking the definition of a library.

Libraries and mobility

In 2013, the library’s former assistant director worked with local community advocates to lend out bicycles using a system like how they would check out books and other resources. To start up the program, he used a Creating Healthy Communities grant and funding from the library’s budget. Ongoing maintenance for the bikes has come out of the library’s budget.

Current Athens County Public Libraries Director Nick Tepe is committed to ensuring the library is adapting to the people it serves. “We need to be more thoughtful about how to meet the information needs of our community,” Tepe explained. “What can we do as the information provider to meet those needs? Help with exercise? Running errands when you can’t afford a car or gas?” As the world and information changes rapidly, Tepe pointed out that there is a growing need to try something before buying it, including bicycles.

“During the pandemic and lockdowns, everyone started transitioning to wanting to spend more time outside,” said Tepe. “People want to check them out to run errands. Sometimes, they have friends and family coming from out of town and they come and check out bikes to show off the city and different sites.”

The hilly areas of Athens presented challenges for cyclists not accustomed to climbing hills. As electric bikes became mainstream, patrons started requesting them, eager to get up hills with the support of electric assistance. In response, this year the library introduced two e-bikes using a grant from a local community foundation. “There were a lot of people who want to try out e-bikes before buying them themselves,” explained Tepe. Borrowing the e-bikes gave them access to that new, previously inaccessible information.

Periodically, the library offers introduction to bike programs, including lessons about how to ride and maintain a bicycle, and safety protocols.

Resource maintenance

Currently, the library has about 30 bikes and checked them out almost 4000 times last year. “Bikes are consistently the most checked out item in the collect,” said Tepe. “Everyone is proud of the program.” Once, Tepe said, a patron sent a $100 donation to the library because they were so happy to use the resource.

Any Ohio resident may borrow a bike for three hours at a time. The fleet is maintained through a contract with a local bike shop, which does weekly maintenance on site. The library’s budget is funded 2/3 by the Ohio State Public Library Fund, and 1/3 from a local property tax levy.

“This is a great program for libraries to do,” Tepe advised. “It’s fairly straightforward to run and has a huge impact in the community.”

For more information, contact Nick Tepe at


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