The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksGarbage collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez took the adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, to heart when he rescued thousands of books from the trash bins over a period of 20 years to create a free library for his neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. So how many books did Gutierrez rescue? He collected more than 20,000 books, earning the nickname “Lord of the Books.” Lordy! Two immediate take-aways: 1. people of Colombia throw away perfectly decent books? and 2. Gutierrez, who stores these books in his home (he lives there with his wife and three children), must have a very patient and understanding wife (Jose — when are you gonna start clearing out some of these books? — if I trip on Infinite Jest one more time!….).  

Gutierrez is passionate about reading even though he had to leave elementary school when he was young to earn money for his family. “I got my inspiration from my mom,” he explained in an interview. “When I was little she would read to us every night.” Then when he was 13, he read a book that changed his life: Homer’s great epic, The Odyssey. “After reading it,” Gutierrez recalled, “I became a traveler in my own odyssey. I will only reach Ithaca when I see libraries and books everywhere in my country.” This passion for reading and education is what fueled his goal to open a free public library, that he calls “La Fuerza de las Palabras” (The Strength of Words), in 2000. The first book he collected was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. He was shocked that someone would toss such an important literary work into the trash. I mean, if the book were 50 Shades of Grey — that would make sense, right?

Gutierrez’s generosity is not limited to his own neighborhood — over the years he has donated books to more than 235 organizations and schools in his native country to help disadvantaged students to discover the joy and benefits of reading; he explained, “The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids [to] start reading.” The library has also become a mecca for writers, poets, and education specialists who visit the library to browse, research, and to sip from this impressive literary monument.

So next time you finish a book, but don’t want to keep the book, think of the Lord of the Books. Donate the book to a library or a neighborhood lending library, so it can be passed on. Perhaps one day, it may end up thousands of miles away in La Fuerza de las Palabras. Now that would be quite a literary odyssey…

Read related posts: A Tale of Two Donkeys and a Mobile Library
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
Mobile Libraries
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

The Power of Literature

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