Garbage man library

What do you do with a book you no longer want? Give it to a friend? Sell it? Donate it? Well, for many people, the easiest option is simply to toss it into the bin. Sadly, this means countless perfectly good books are being unnecessarily discarded rather than being put to good use and given to those who need them most.

That’s exactly what José Alberto Gutiérrez from Bogota, Colombia is trying to fix. For the past 17 years, the 55-year-old garbage man has been saving books from going into landfill. His collection began with a copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and has since exploded to a staggering 25,000 books, which take up the entire ground floor of his home.

Naturally, such a vast number of books didn’t go unnoticed by his neighbours. Visitors began to stop by and asked to borrow a book or two for their kids and soon enough, Gutiérrez had a full-blown library on his hands.

Dubbed “La Fuerza de las Palabras” (“The Strength of Words”), the community library now delivers books, organises pickups, organises events and donates books to disadvantaged children.

“I grew up, here and I can tell you it got me a Ph.D. in marginalisation and poverty. Kids here don’t have a place to study; instead, they have to start working early,” he told Al Jazeera. For Gutiérrez, the whole aim is to break that cycle of poverty. “The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids start reading.”

The project has been so successful, in fact, that plans have been made to build a real, brick-and-mortar building to house the extensive collection.

“Lots of people mocked me,” he recalled. “They would laugh when they found out about my project. But now 20 years later, they are amazed. My dream is to exchange my garbage truck for a truck full of books, and travel the country.”

Image credit: Fernando Vergara/AP.

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