Jose Alberto Gutierrez, one day found a copy of “Anna Karenina”, a classic novel, whilst emptying the bins of Colombia’s capital and kept it.
That happened 20 years ago and to this day the garbage man continued to collect discarded books from Bogota, amassing 25,000 in a free library, swelled by donations.
“I realized that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them,” a stocky, grey-hard man of 54, Gutierrez, told AFP.
He is now called “The Lord of the Books,” in demand from school across the country and interesting enough, he never got past primary school as a student.
Tolsoy’s copy, the first copy of Gutierrez, was soon joined by “The Iliad,” “The Little Prince,” “Sophie’s World,” and various novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Colombian master.
Neighbors of Gutierrez started coming to his house to borrow books to help their children with schoolwork.
“There was a lack of them in our neighborhood, so we started to help.”
In the working class Nueva Gloria on a hill, in the district of the capital, the whole floor of his house is taken up by stacks of books now.
In 2000, Gutierrez opened it as a free library along with his three children and his wife Luz Mery Gutierrez.
The garbage man found himself invited to international book fairs when volunteers joined in and started spreading the word.
Most of his stock comes from donations now, instead of books rescued from the street. Gutierrez covers any further expenses from his own money aside from the donations.
“We have a blessed curse upon us,” he said. “The more books we give away, the more come to us.”
They had to halt the reading sessions of the children they held in the house because the collection got so big, they started lacking space.
They started traveling around the country to help hundreds of poor and remote districts by delivering free books.