Friday, August 12, 2011

Portland's Homeless Enjoy Books-on-Wheels

Photo from Street Books website
I have to believe that it is virtually impossible for homeless people to obtain a library card from their local libraries - even though some do spend a good bit of time inside them.  But, sad as this might be, who would blame the libraries for not allowing books to walk out the door with someone just as likely to disappear forever as come back to return the borrowed book?  Permanent addresses and telephone numbers make it a whole lot easier to find the rest of us.

One woman is doing her best to place books into the hands of as many of Portland, Oregon's, homeless as she can.  The Christian Science Monitor has a nice piece on Laura Moulton's little bicycle-powered library:
Every Wednesday and Saturday, Portland, Ore., residents can spot Laura Moulton fiercely peddling her bike as she tows along a wagon full of books. When she arrives at her destination, Ms. Moulton parks, opens her wagon, and sets up for her four-hour shift.
Ms. Moulton is Portland’s mobile librarian. Since early June Moulton has been bringing books to the public with her library-on-wheels Street Books, an outdoor library for people who live outside. “The power of the book,” she says, “offer[s] a way to transport oneself out of a current reality.” Books are also “a tool to help pass time, which a lot of people living outside have a lot of.”
“Being able to give them a card and tell them, ‘I hope to see you again’ – that’s a powerful thing because these are people who cannot get a library card [at the local library] because they have no address,” Moulton says. Her patrons show a high-level of accountability in returning books, which contradicts some assumptions about homeless people. “The regular patrons are coming back and returning books very regularly,” she says. “I have patrons who come and check out two or three books a week.” The loaned books have no set due date. Patrons simply return the book when they’re finished reading.
All of us know that books are as much about escapism as they are about anything else. They offer glimpses into different worlds, places we might never see in any other way. They allow us to visit other planets, become spies, track serial murderers, ride with Old West outlaws, time-travel back to ancient times or distant futures - places and circumstances much different from our real world.  That this library-on-wheels, known as Street Books, can bring some relief and pleasure to a few of Portland's homeless is a beautiful thing.  Thank you, Laura Moulton.

(Laura has a website, complete with details and pictures - take a look.)

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