Dustbin man builds free library of thrown away books

A dustbin man in Bogota in Colombia, who never studied further than primary school, has gathered a library of more than 20,000 thrown away books.

The collection began 20 years ago, when Jose Alberto Gutierrez fished out a discarded copy of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. He now offers his books to other people as a free community library.

“I realised that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them,” he said. Mr Gutierrez, who has gained the nickname The Lord of the Books, began collecting books that had been dumped in the waste bins in wealthier parts of the city.

He would take them out of the rubbish and retrieve them for families in poorer areas. His collection of chucked away books is now used by families wanting to help their children with their homework, in a free library called the Strength of Words.

“There was a lack of them in our neighbourhood, so we started to help,” said Mr Gutierrez. His home has been overfilled with books, so they are now taking books to poor parts of the city or to remote areas without any access to libraries.

“The more books we give away, the more come to us,” he said. He has also been providing books for fighters being demobilised in Colombia’s peace process.

A fighter from the Farc rebel group contacted him about getting books to help them prepare for jobs when they re-enter civilian life. “Books transformed me, so I think books are a symbol of hope for those places. They are a symbol of peace,” said Mr Gutierrez.

Now in his 50s, Mr Gutierrez is going back to study for his school leaver’s exam, which he missed first time round.

Instinct Furniture BLOG, mostly about cool libraries, furniture and design – keeping you abreast of our world. (Source: By Sean Coughlan: Education correspondent BBC News, Image: Getty Images)

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