Gutiérrez’s journey began with Anna Karenina
His journey began with Leo Tolstoy’s timeless classic Anna Karenina when he discovered a discarded copy of the same and decided to keep it. Other books like Sophie’s World, The Little Prince and the marvellous novels of Nobel Laureate Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez soon made their way to his fast-growing collection.
“I realised that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them,” Gutiérrez shared in a 2017 interview with Hindustan Times. As piles of rescued books started taking over entire rooms in his house in Nueva Gloria, word started to spread about his prized collection. Neighbours started coming to borrow textbooks for their children, who were soon followed by enthusiastic readers from the locality.
“We have a blessed curse upon us”
In 2000, Gutiérrez opened up his collection as a free library to the public. It didn’t take much time for word to spread and a horde of readers to pour in. Gutiérrez’s wife and children assisted him in expanding and managing the library, which now houses a mammoth collection with the help of pre-owned books donated by people.
“We have a blessed curse upon us. The more books we give away, the more come to us,” he had expressed.
The man behind it all also travels around the country to distribute free books among the underprivileged people in remote interiors, with limited access to education. At 56 years of age, he is now preparing for his school final examination.
Gutiérrez might be the frontrunner in building a library out of discarded books, but, amazingly, the trend has been picked up in other parts of the world by groups of Good Samaritans, young and old.
A children’s library by young Chinese sister duo
For instance, in China’s Henan province, two little sisters have collected books from junk and created a children’s library – perhaps one of the very few in the poverty-stricken and education-starved province reported Inkstone News.
12-year-old Wu Nannan and 10-year-old Wu Shike hail from one of the poorest parts of the country. They have to assist their family in work after school hours to earn a decent livelihood. The two siblings used to help their grandmother to collect and sell junk and scrap materials. That is where they chanced upon lots of thrown away books, magazines and newspapers – many of which were school textbooks. The girls stocked up the books in one room of the house and started inviting local children on holidays and weekends. Now it is a treasure trove for the little ones in the neighbourhood. A lot of them cannot afford new schoolbooks and borrow the same from this library.
The sisters’ library is receiving book donations from well-wishers, tallying their collection over 10,000. The local government has also acknowledged their incredible efforts and rewarded them with new bookshelves and furniture for the library.
Library by sanitation workers of Turkey
A group of sanitation workers from Turkey recently made headlines as the news of their library of discarded books surfaced on social media. As CNN reported, sanitation workers from the Turkish capital Ankara started saving discarded books a few years ago. As their collection piled up, they aimed to turn it into a library exclusively for the sanitation workers and their families. However, as word spread through the local community, they decided to open the library for the public in September 2017.
Housed at an abandoned brick factory, the library now comprises a collection of over 25,000 books of diverse genres, a sizeable proportion of which came from donations. The collection has been organised into 17 distinct categories, including children’s section or scientific research segment, each catering to a particular set of readers.
Inspired by the unprecedented success of the library, the workers’ group have started a mobile library with an old garbage truck, which delivers books to nearby schools and homes.