One Year of Street Books: A Bike-Powered Library For The Homeless
When artist, writer, and mother of two Laura Moulton started a mobile library for "people who live outside" in Portland, Oregon using a $5,000 grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council, few thought it would still be going a year later. "You'll run out of books," people said. "You'll never see those books again," they said.
"To be honest," admitted Moulton, "we didn’t know whether or not this was true. We decided to operate the library on the assumption that people living outside have more pressing concerns than returning a library book, and that every time a return came in, it would be cause for celebration."
Now, twelve months later, Street Books—the bike- and trust-powered book lending program—has brought reading to hundreds who can't get books from traditional libraries due to a lack of permanent address or ID. Moulton's storage space is chock full of donated books and her project recently won an Innovations In Reading award from the National Book Foundation.
Even more impressive, Street Books boasts a return rate of nearly 70 percent (suck it, cynics). Even when patrons can't return a book because it was ruined by weather or circumstances, they often visit the cart to explain why. The Street Books blog features some of the more interesting lost-book stories, such as the account of a man who discovered that his borrowed copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and his bike had been stolen, then used what he'd learned from the book to track down the bike by calmly searching city blocks in gradually wider concentric circles. The blog also features book reviews from patrons, incredible photos, interviews, and stories about life on the street, author donations, and the kindness of strangers. It's worth a read—equal parts heartwarming, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
The Street Books cart, with its forty to fifty book capacity, operates twice a week, offering everything from sci-fi, romance, detective stories, classics and westerns (Moulton reports that Louis L'Amour is particularly popular). To take a book, borrowers simply pull out the card in the back, sign it, and leave it with the librarian. There is no due date.
I'll admit that the 70 percent return rate surprised me a bit. I would've thought maybe 50 percent at most. Are you surprised that the books are returned?
To leave a comment