One Year On: Our First Year as The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library

Has it really been a year?


Logically, I understand why a year feels shorter with each successive year you experience.  As an example, if I had started running a bookmobile when I was four years old (you know, as an example), the first year of bookmobiling would have been 1/5 of my life, which is a lot more than 1/28 of one’s life.

But really?  A year?

I can’t say it wasn’t an accomplished year.

We nearly crossed the two-century mark in terms of members.  We’ve circulated over 350 of our near-2,000-item collection of books, CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks, largely comprised of community donations, with 260 items currently checked out.  We’ve netted over $1,000 from the sales of over 200 items, and given away hundreds of other books, magazines, CDs, audiobooks, zines, and stickers for free, in our free bin, in tandem with Urban Harvest‘s Children’s Gardening Series, and otherwise.

We’ve scoured the web and curated an ever-growing list of over 250 free electronic resources, filled with readily accessible goodies in literature, art, music, and film, among other things.

We’ve amassed a respectable number of followers through our various social media outlets, and, despite ourselves, have garnered a considerable amount of press coverage.

We’ve traveled to Odessa, Texas to hold a two-day, city-wide library card drive for the Ector County Library (something we’d like to do more often, just maybe not 500 miles away).

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We got a makeover at White Linen Night in the Heights, thanks to Clear and our friends at The Picasso Bus.

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We’ve coordinated over 80 stops at various locations throughout the city and worked with a variety of local businesses and markets, including Style Cycle, Boomtown Coffee, MAM’s House of Ice, UP Art Studio, Urban Harvest, the H-E-B Montrose Market, Pop Shop Houston, Houston Re-Market, The Lone Star Bazaar, ECO-Market, Project Row Houses, Taft St. Coffee, Te House of Tea, Zine Fest Houston, Spring Street Studios, Wabash Antiques and Feed, Indie Book Fest, First Saturday Arts Market, Happy Fatz, Liberty Station, Houston Food Park, Montrose Food Park, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and, more recently, Good Dog Houston, Houston Makerspace, and Fat Cat Creamery.

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All in the name of literacy and entertainment, of information and culture.

We couldn’t have done any of this without such a welcoming and inviting community.  We asked our members and social media followers whether they’d like to contribute a quote to include in this post, and received several humbling responses.  “I’m so in awe of this sweet couple and the BPTL,” one read.  “Their dedication and devotion to reading materials, their efforts and kindness of giving the gift of reading to many, renews my faith in all things Good. May the Beauty of Books live long and long travel with Chris and Kelly.”  One of our regulars wrote, “The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library has provided Houston with an indispensable model of how libraries can operate. All my life I have had my library experience come up short because of late fees! Thank you both for your passion and consistency in providing great books, movies, and tunes for cheap. Thank you and keep up the great work!”   A third contributor “remember[s] buying some awesome Neil Young and Nick Drake CDs from [our] killer used CD collection.”  It’s nice to know that we’ve had such a positive impact on the lives of other members of our community, and that other folks think that we have a killer CD collection.

So yeah, it’s been a good year, if an impossibly fast one.

What’s in store for year two of the BPTL?  Well, that’s all still taking shape.

We hope to forge new partnerships with more local businesses and locations throughout the city, inner and outer loop.  We’ve already planned upcoming stops at Mangum Food Park and Watershed Market, for instance.  We’d like to partner with other libraries, schools, artists and the like to repurpose our truck towards others’ goals, like we did with the Ector County Library.  We’d like to put more books and CDs and DVDs in more people’s hands, to see return customers more often, and to generally increase our outreach – to host more programs and to be open more hours, and more days.

I can happily report that the good folks at Houston Makerspace are going to help make that happen.

Houston Makerspace is in the process of building out a warehouse in EaDo and installing various shops and workspaces that makers will be able to utilize for years to come.  But somewhere in that space will be a publicly accessible library that will in due time serve as a home branch for the BPTL.

We’ll still regularly make stops in the bookmobile, of course.  All said and done, we’ll try to be open to the public between 5 and 7 days a week.  Having a library branch at HMS will give us a stationary space where the public knows to find us, a wider berth of hours to visit us,  a home for the (not quite literal) ton of donated books and CDs that aren’t currently on the truck, and an opportunity to expand our services to include internship/capstone/volunteer opportunities, classes, book clubs, movie nights, author readings, and other programming that’d be difficult to hold inside of a bookmobile.  And it’ll give us a chance to take a weekend off once in a while without feeling guilty that our members aren’t getting their money’s worth.

It’s definitely a work in progress, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get there, but we’re excited to see what year two has in store for us.  We hope that you are as well.


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