As he was emptying the bins of Colombia’s capital, Jose Alberto Gutierrez one day found a copy of the classic novel “Anna Karenina,” and kept it. This happened 20 years ago and the garbage man continued to collect Bogota’s discarded books, collecting 25,000 in a free library, increased by donations. He realized that people were throwing books away in the rubbish decided to start rescuing them.
He never got past primary school as a student, but is now nicknamed “The Lord of the Books,” in demand from schools across the country. Gutierrez’s neighbors started coming around to borrow books to help their children with schoolwork. Now a whole floor of his house, on a hill in the working-class Nueva Gloria district of the capital, is taken up by stacks of books.
Along with wife Luz Mery Gutierrez and their three children, Gutierrez opened it as a free library in 2000. Volunteers joined in, word spread, and the garbage man found himself invited to international book fairs in Santiago, Monterrey as well as in the capital. Where once he supplied the library by rescuing books from the street, now most his stock comes from donations. Aside from donations, Gutierrez covers any further expenses from his own pocket. Having not finished school as a boy, he is now, well into middle age, studying for his school leaver’s exam.