For most of us, easy access to books and libraries is something we take for granted. For the homeless though, it can be difficult to gain access to reading material in a library, much less signing up for a library card to take books out. In an effort to provide books to "people who live outside," Portland's Street Books project was started earlier this summer by artist, writer and "street librarian" Laura Moulton, who lends out books from a pedal-powered library cart.Each week, the Street Books library parks itself in a couple of regular spots. Using an old-school card catalogue system, patrons sign out their books, and return them within a week. The Street Books blog also documents patrons and their book choices, in addition to their reviews.
But the best thing about Street Books is that it provides a neutral ground for people of seemingly different backgrounds face-to-face, sharing stories and books. In one blog entry, Moulton writes about a regular patron, a former drug addict who's now clean and attends the local university. One day at the cart, he comes in contact with another Street Books fan -- who is also the security guard who used to wake him in the park. Moulton describes the encounter:
He gestured to A.B., who was looking through the library books, and said "That guy used to wake me up in the park next to the elephant, back when I was still using. He was always pretty nice about it." "Hey, A.B.," I said. "This is Jeffrey, and he used to be on the streets. He says you weren't mean about telling him to move on." I told A.B. that Jeffrey was a college student now, and free of drugs. A kind of success story. "I thought you looked familiar," A.B. said. He reached out an shook Jeffrey's hand.
The Street Books project has created an intersection for these conversations to happen, where people can stop and talk to one another. People who live under roofs, people who live under bridges, people who love books, poets with baguettes, and dogs on leashes. So many stories to be told.
It's profoundly inspiring to see how a library on wheels can spread so many smiles and books. To find out more information about Street Books' locations or to donate money for the project to buy more used books (there's a wish list of books on the site), check out StreetBooks.org.
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