Liability and Accessibility for Bike Lock Loans

Submission Date:



At [our] Public Library, we don't allow patrons to bring their bikes into the library. Our Teen Services Librarian suggested we purchase bike locks to loan patrons because often patrons, especially the teens/tweens, don't have bike locks and are nervous about leaving them outside unattended. We rent our space, so the park outside our Main Street entrance and the nearby bike "rack" (more of a giant U-bolt) is not ours.

So, I have a couple concerns:
*What is our liability if we provide a bike lock that fails or the bike rack fails?
*How do we ensure that our bike lock is accessible to those who have disability, from limited vision to fine motor skills impairment.


When I was a kid, I watched "Candid Camera"[1] from time to time (as it turns out, this was good training for TikTok).

I don't remember much of "Candid Camera", but I do remember a classic sketch where a person leans their bike against a light pole before going in a store, and then two guys in a cherry-picker truck pick up the bike and thread it over the pole.  The bike owner comes back, and of course, cannot un-thread his bike.  Hilarity ensues.[2]

The point being: people mess with bikes.

So, it is great that this library is considering having a bike lock lending program. 

In a program like this, details are important.  So, I called the library director to talk it over: will the locks be checked out like collection items or borrowed another way?  How will the locks be marked and inventoried as library property?  How will they be returned?[3]

When considering a loan of equipment, a library must consider the risks inherent in the use (and misuse) of the item.  A person who borrows a bike lock to lock up their bike can also borrow a bike lock to lock onto a nearby fence... or even the bikes of people they don't like.[4]  At the same time, an institution can only be held liable for negligence when they owe a "duty of care" and neglect to perform that duty.  So, while a library that gave away 100 bike locks with built-in flamethrowers[5] could face some liability, a library with a well-thought-out program for a small array of locks (sans flames) to meet the needs of patrons should be fine.

A well-thought-out program will:

1.  Source locks that are accessible, safe, and easy to use. 

2.  Ensure the locks selected can be permanently marked as library property, with a call number in case the lock ends up somewhere it shouldn't.

3.  Enable and lend a reasonable[6] number of locks only.

4.  Determine if locks require a library card or can be borrowed as non-collection items.

5.  Develop a policy for locks that limits use to intended purposes, including if the locks stay at the library.

The "policy" does not need to be long.  A policy to borrow a bike lock could be:

Bikes locks can only be checked out for # hours.  When done, please bring the lock back to [location], so others can use it [or put it in the book return bin outside].  If these terms are not followed, the library may remove your ability to borrow a bike lock in the future. 

The library is not responsible for any failure of a borrowed lock to stop bike theft, but we hope a borrowed lock helps keep your bike safe while you visit the library!

There is no magic wording for a policy that will cover every contingency,[7] but solid product selection, clear labelling, and a clear policy should position the library to show that to the extent it owes a duty of care when creating a bike-lock program, it has done so.

Happing locking.



[1] A show that captured manufactured moments of social embarrassment, ostensibly in a "candid" way.

[2] I found a muddy clip of this episode here:  Watching it reminded me of how much I hate gags like this; I am pretty sure I remember this clip because I was angry on behalf of the bike owner about the people tampering with his bike.  I only like pranks if they achieve a high order of satire.

[3] Book drop!

[4] I should be careful. You will get the impression that I was a miscreant child.

[5] Bike locks with flame-throwers, recycling bins with grappling hooks, compost turners with protective armor vision of the future is both eco-friendly and edgy.

[6] "Reasonable" being the amount that the library can track and lend without people feeling they can borrow the locks and make the world's longest and strongest paper-clip chain.

[7] I searched legal cases involving bike locks.  They fell into three(ish) categories: trademark, business, and political protest (people locking themselves to things to avoid easy arrest/removal).  None of them involved alleged liability for bike theft, which tells us that most bikes aren't worth hiring an attorney over.  That said, check the warranty during selection of a particular lock, just in case it is impacted by lending.


Library of Things, Collection Management, Policy, Liability