Librarian takes a novel ride through France

Annie Pho and her bicycle in front of the Daley Library

UIC librarian Annie Pho was among 100 cyclists who biked across France in August to visit 15 libraries. “Most people have the perception that librarians are a bunch of book-reading shushers,” she says. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin


They weren’t straight out of “The Wild One,” but 100 cyclists wearing yellow vests did raise some eyebrows in the French towns where they showed up last summer.

Especially when the cyclists told townspeople they were librarians.

“We definitely got a lot of surprised looks,” said Annie Pho, librarian at UIC’s Daley Library. “Most people have the perception that librarians are a bunch of book-reading shushers.”

The annual bike ride, sponsored by the International Association for Library Advocacy, took the group to 15 French libraries Aug. 5 to 13. They pedaled the 500 kilometers, about 310 miles, between Montpellier and Lyon. “We stayed in budget hotels, and sometimes in dorms at universities,” Pho said.

On their hardest day the librarians rode 100 kilometers, about 62 miles; on their easiest they went 20 kilometers, about 12.5 miles. “Some days it took 10 hours, with a lot of water and bathroom breaks,” she said. “We were lucky, two people were driving trucks with our luggage so we didn’t have to carry it.”

Also along was a chef, who cooked lunch each day for the cyclists. “Riding for hours, you’d know you have a good lunch waiting for you somewhere,” Pho said.

The group was blessed by good weather. “We didn’t get rained on, other than a sprinkle one day.” Pho was on last year’s trip too, when the cyclists weren’t so lucky. “We had a couple of really bad days, and you couldn’t just stop.”


“It’s the two things I really like rolled into one, cycling and libraries.”


After they arrived in a town, the librarians would go the local library to be greeted by library staffers and, sometimes, the town mayor. “Then we’d speak to the librarians and get a sense of the work they do and how they organize their services,” Pho said.

“It was interesting to see the differences between French and American libraries. A lot of their libraries have really big graphic novels sections. “And surprisingly, they have huge music sections full of CDs. It was like a flashback. Some libraries have an entire room full of CDs and they are still actively purchasing and collecting them.”

At the Daley Library, by contrast, “we have some vinyl, but the CDs are not set out on display.”

Pho said she found it inspirational to learn how others run their libraries. “What makes this event so appealing is that it’s the two things I really like rolled into one, cycling and libraries.”

Pho bikes to work unless the weather is awful — a 20-minute ride from her home in Ukrainian Village — and goes for longer rides on weekends.

At the Daley Library, she is one of two people with the new title of undergraduate experience librarian. “Essentially, I do everything I can to support student research,” she said. “I help them find articles and books. And I partner with English 161 classes, telling the students how to find information in our catalog and database through the library website.” For the Undergraduate Success Center, she partners with a peer mentoring program, including a scavenger hunt — “work on a fun activity and learn what the library has to offer.”

Alarmingly, “we find students can go all four years and never set foot in the library,” she said. “That’s a shame; there are so many offerings and we want to show what we can do for them.”

Pho grew up in the California wine country of Sonoma County, mostly in Santa Rosa. She earned a bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University and a master’s in library science at the University of Indiana.

Pho lives with her partner, Casey Goodrow, a game designer. They met in California, and he came with her when she worked on her master’s degree.

“Libraries have always played an important part in my life,” Pho said. “I’m an avid reader and libraries gave me access to books, and when I had to do reports, librarians helped me.

“I always wanted to do something that would help people. I really fell in love with the profession. It’s a rewarding job.”


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