Garbage collector creates library from rescued books Jose Alberto Gutierrez, left, talks to children visiting his library at his home in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday. The reading material slowly piles up, and now the ground floor of his small house is a makeshift community library stacked from floor to ceiling with some 20,000 books, ranging from chemistry textbooks to children’s classics. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Garbage collector creates library from rescued books

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A second-grade education has not stopped garbage collector Jose Gutierrez from bringing the gift of reading to thousands of Colombian children.
Gutierrez started rescuing books from the trash almost 20 years ago, when he was driving a garbage truck at night through the country's wealthier neighborhoods. The discarded reading material slowly piled up, and now the ground floor of his small house is a makeshift community library stacked from floor to ceiling with some 20,000 books, ranging from chemistry textbooks to children's classics.
He says books are luxuries for boys and girls in low-income neighborhoods such as his, with new reading material at bookstores too expensive. There are 19 public libraries in Bogota, a city of 8.5 million, but they tend to be located far away from poorer areas.
"This should be in all neighborhoods, on each corner of every neighborhood, in all the towns, in all departments, and all the rural areas," says Gutierrez. "Books are our salvation and that is what Colombia needs."
The 53-year-old Gutierrez has a love of reading he attributes to his mother, who always read to him even though she was too poor to keep him in school.
"She used to read me stories every night," said Gutierrez, who has traveled to book fairs in Mexico and Chile to share his experience of starting a library with discarded reading material. "To me, books are the greatest invention and the best thing that can happen to a human being."
While Gutierrez still sifts through the rubbish for additions to his library, his fame as Colombia's "Lord of the Books" has also brought him thousands of donated tomes that he's sent to other libraries around the country because he doesn't have room for them all.
Gutierrez is an avid reader of works by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Mario Vargas Llosa. His favorite books include "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "The General in his Labyrinth" by Colombia's Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
He says he doesn't reject technology that allows books to be read digitally, but says he prefers to read the printed word on paper.
"There's nothing more beautiful than having a book in your pocket, in your bag or inside your car," he says.

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Why does Jose think "books are the greatest invention and the best thing that can happen to a human being?"
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • hidalgo,bruce-cas
    9/08/2015 - 11:04 p.m.

    Mr.Gutierrez thinks books are the greatest invention because in them there is information that one may never heard or learned about. Books are essential in various types of ways.They can entertain, teach, and inform depending on the genre of the book. It's the best thing that can happen to a human being because they are like portable televisions that you can bring where ever and when ever you feel like it. Also because they can be very beneficial when it comes to school.

  • sierrab-ste
    9/09/2015 - 10:38 a.m.

    This is really cool that somebody took the time to do this. It helps out a bunch of people who really enjoy reading and having an education. Going to the library can sometimes be way to expensive. I give this guy a ton of credit for saving these books from the trash to recycle them to other people.

    9/13/2015 - 12:18 p.m.

    This is an example of someone going outside of the cultural customs of people not going out of there way to help others who are less fortunate. He has created a great source of knowledge for the less fortunate kids in the more poor neighborhoods. In a culture such as the one mentioned in the text the children growing up in less wealthy neighborhoods are neglected when it comes to education and educational resources.

  • lilym-1-bag
    9/17/2015 - 09:43 p.m.

    I prefer regular books over digital books because original is better for me. Plus computers give me head aches. Having a book in your hand, being able to bring it everywhere is awesome!

  • cadet,lourdemilla-cas
    9/24/2015 - 06:00 p.m.

    1.Jose think"books are the greatest invention and the best thing that can happen to a human being" because you can learn many things in books.
    2.It's very interesting how he collected books and turn the ground floor of his house into a library.It was nice of him to create a library for kids that live in a poor neighborhood that couldn't afford to get a book.

  • erinu-day
    9/24/2015 - 09:50 p.m.

    Books are a way to transport you from one place to another. A way to allow yourself to be who you want and delve into the other worlds. Books truly are the greatest invention of mankind. They deliver information, they create new, exciting places and most importantly they let your imagination run free. Every person no matter what age should try to develop a love for reading as you can learn so much and enrich your daily life through reading. What Gutierrez is doing is an amazing thing that should be spread throughout the world. Everyone should have access to books throughout the world.

  • ravend-bag
    9/28/2015 - 06:09 p.m.

    Jose thinks that books are the greatest thing that has happened because It gives you fictional text and factual text.

  • catherineg-mil
    10/01/2015 - 03:45 p.m.

    I really like how Jose Gutierrez is helping people by saving books from the garbage. I'm really surprised that he has about 20,000 books and all of them are from the trash. It's also nice how he has such a large variety of books for people so anyone can read anything they want. I love that he also sends books to other libraries because he doesn't have enough room for them all. It just shows that he "rescues" a lot of books and that he loves whats he's doing.

  • laurenc-bag
    10/01/2015 - 05:08 p.m.

    Jose thinks that books are the greatest thing that can ever happen to a human being because they can help so many children and adults and bring families together, like when he said that his mother used to read to him at night.

  • milog5-pla
    2/08/2016 - 02:06 p.m.

    Jose Gutierrez is a garbage collector in Colombia that created a library completely out of discarded books that he found in trash bins of the upper class residents. As an avid reader, I think that it is very important to spread the gift of literature to everybody, despite their social class. By giving books to the neighborhoods in poverty he opened them up to new worlds and stories at no cost, which is one of the greatest gifts he could give them.

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