The Bookmobile as Incubator Space & The Collaborative Economy

Traveling library and bookmobile-for-hire.  That’s how we’ve described ourselves from the start.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Philosophically, we treat the two concepts as equals.  Implementation-wise, one has proven somewhat easier to facilitate than the other.  A more accurate description, at this point, would be “98% traveling library, 2% bookmobile-for-hire.”

In sixteen months, we’ve planned over 100 stops throughout the city as a traveling library, and spent a grand total of 3 days as a bookmobile-for-hire: 2 with the Ector County Library in Odessa, Texas, during which we hosted a series of library card drives throughout the county, and the third during White Linen Night, where we hung some of The Picasso Bus‘ artwork while we had a Picasso painted onto the side of the bookmobile.  And we still had most of our own collection on the truck during White Linen Night.

west side senior center

Maybe the phrase “bookmobile-for-hire” is offputting?  Maybe most people look at that phrase and think, ‘What would I need with a bookmobile, and why would I pay for it?’

If we were a (true) food truck, we could just say, “We cater!”

In our very first interview, months before we even owned a bookmobile, we were asked to elaborate on our bookmobile-for-hire concept.  The response is fairly long-winded, but it concludes by saying:

While our space is likely most amenable to public libraries, we would be crazy not to make it available to other interested parties (school & academic libraries, museums, artists & art galleries, bookstores, etc.) for pop-up shops & galleries, exhibits, and the like. Part of the appeal of this bookmobile-for-hire model is the potential for the bookmobile to be a sort of incubator space, where individuals and organizations can try out new ideas and new services.

There.  We had it from the very beginning.  The phrase we should have used all along:  incubator space.

As we move into our next phase as The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library, we hope to more fully embrace this second, de-emphasized component to what we do: the incubator space.  We aspire to provide for libraries and makers something comparable to what Brewery (née Kitchen) Incubator provides for aspiring brewers (and chefs), what our friends in Louisville are doing for printmaking with Calliope Arts, and what our new home, Houston Makerspace is doing for makers et al.

So what will this incubator space look like?  That’s an unanswerable question, since it depends largely on who is utilizing the space.  I suspect, for the most part, it will take one of three overarching forms:

A Library

Obviously, our space is built to house a library.  But that doesn’t mean it has to be our own library.

We’ve showcased our ability to mobilize public libraries and bring their services out into the community by hosting a two-day library card drive last Spring Break for the Ector County Library.  Our experience has been well-documented.  Over time, we hope to work with more public library systems to help them expand their services into their community, particularly to underserved areas.

We are commonly asked at our stops whether we coordinate stops with schools.  And the answer has always been, “We haven’t yet, but we’d like to.”  Our weekends-only schedule hasn’t exactly been school-friendly, but as we expand into weekday hours, we hope to remedy this a bit.  What the space would become would, again, depend on how the school would like to utilize it, but we’ve toyed with the idea of filling the shelves with the school’s library materials a la the Ector County Library model, as well as filling them exclusively with kid- and young adult-oriented donations where everyone who comes on is allowed to take one book home for free.  The latter would require something of a windfall of kid- and young adult-oriented donations, but it’s certainly in the cards.

We’re also very open to working with special libraries, museums, and even bookstores, if they are interested in utilizing our space.

Further down the road, we hope to provide internships for library school students and recent graduates both inside and outside of the makerspace.  One facet of this would be to both literally and figuratively hand our interns the keys to the BPTL and have them build on its foundation however they see fit.

Traveling Library + Boutique

This is, in essence, what we did in collaboration with The Picasso Bus at White Linen Night in the Heights.  While an artist painted Picasso’s Reclining Woman Reading on the side of our truck, we displayed several of The Picasso Bus’ works inside, alongside about 65% of our collection.  Here, we arranged to have a portion of the truck designated to non-library purposes, in a manner that would have made the Library as Incubator Project proud – as a library/art gallery.

We encourage any and all local artists, artisans, and/or craftspersons – particularly those also involved with Houston Makerspace – interested in displaying, selling, and/or loaning their work to please be in touch with us.  We would like our bookmobile to serve as a mobile incubator space (complementary to the makerspace itself) that facilitates getting HMS makers’ work out into the community.  More fashion-oriented makers may want to be in touch with our friends at Urban Izzy.

A “Boutique”

The above proposal can include parts of our library collection, or it can’t.  We can leave all of the shelves in, or we can take them all out.  You can turn our space into a furnished room, an art gallery, an exhibit, a pop-up shop – anything you can put your mind to.

“Boutique,” not unlike “bookmobile-for-hire,” may be a controversial and confusing word choice here, which is why it has quotation marks around it.  The point is, our space is available for library and non-library purposes alike, and we hope for it to be utilized as such.

collaborative economy

Recent studies have shown that there has been tremendous growth in a socioeconomic movement called the Collaborative (or Sharing) Economy.  Wikipedia defines the Collaborative Economy as “a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical assets. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organizations.”

Without really knowing there was a name for it, we, along with Kitchen/Brewery Incubator, Houston Makerspace and maker-/hackspaces in general, and Calliope Arts are all willing particpants in the collaborative economy.

Using the chart above, we can see that the traveling library side of our project largely participates through the redistribution of pre-owned goods, loaning materials out, and providing professional and personal library services to the community.

As an incubator space, we’ll offer several other types of collaborative consumption by integrating custom maker goods into our collection, by making our space and our vehicle available as a resource, and, through the makerspace, by expanding our professional services and skills both inside and outside the bookmobile.

Feeling inspired?  Contact us for more information about utilizing our space!


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