For most people, the natural thing to do after reading a book is passing it along to a friend. If you have a small collection of books, you can also choose to donate them. Otherwise, the books will likely end up in your trash.
But every now and then, you come across someone who does things a bit differently. For instance, Jose Alberto Gutierrez, a garbage man who lives in Bogota, Colombia, has been collecting discarded books from garbage disposal bins.
Photo by AP Photo: Gutierrez at work.
For the last 20 years, Gutierrez has been separating books from the rest of the trash and taking them home. Today, his collection has reached 25,000 books, which occupy the entire ground floor of his home, stacked up in tall heaps.
Photo by Getty Images: Bookshelves piled on top of bookshelves
As the book collection grew, people started to notice and even borrowed a couple to help their kids with school work.
Photo by Fernando Vergara: Enthusiastic reader
Today, what started possibly as a hobby has turned into a community library: ‘La Fuerza de las Palabras’, which is Spanish for ‘The Strength of Words’. His family helps to run the library, performing administrative tasks, coordinating pickups, and organising events.
Photo by Guillermo Legario: Instilling a love of books
Gutierrez lives in a low-income neighbourhood, La Nueva Gloria barrio, in southern Bogota.
Thanks to this program, Gutierrez has managed to not only instill a love for books, but also improve the learning process for many children. For instance, when he started collecting books, the only school in the community did not have a library, until Gutierrez donated some of the reading materials. Since then, 235 different schools and communities have benefited from the program.
Photo by Fernando Vergara: Helping kids to start reading
Education to Overcome Marginalisation and Poverty
Having grown up in this marginalized and poor community, Gutierrez realised that the lack of study material forced children to start working at an early age and compromising on education.
The community library has completely transformed the city, and even become a fixture.
Gutierrez has been profiled by local newspapers and invited to book fairs. The library program continues to grow. Recently, it converted an old, donated ambulance into a bookmobile. Now they are making plans to construct a brick-and-mortar library.
More importantly, the program has become a community initiative with other drivers involved in garbage disposal taking any books they find directly to the library.