São Paulo Bicycle Library Brings Books to the City’s Homeless


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By Davi Padilha Bonela at Global Voices

If good ideas transcend boundaries, this one does it by bicycle. That is, by Bicicloteca [pt], a bicycle that carries a small library through the city of São Paulo, Brazil. The project is a creative and dynamic way to encourage reading, especially among people who live on the streets, because libraries typically require identification and proof of residence to loan books; documents which homeless people don’t have.

The Bicicloteca initiative has emerged from this very need, gaining support from São Paulo residents, media and businesses. As of August 2012, it has been distributing books and encouraging reading for a year.

The Bicicloteca is ridden by Robson Mendonça, a 61-year-old librarian who used to live on the streets of São Paulo. Reading the George Orwell novel Animal Farm was a catalyst for his change, shifting his perspective and proving to him that reading transforms people’s lives.

The video below [pt] shows the Bicicloteca in action in São Paulo:

The initiative is part of the Instituto Mobilidade Verde‘s (IMV, Green Mobility Institute) [pt] activities; a non-profit NGO focused on alternative and sustainable means of transport for cities. President of the organisation, Lincoln Paiva, recalled how it all started:

The Bicicloteca is an independent movement which has emerged in various places around the world, aiming to go where traditional libraries can’t and to do so in the simplest and cheapest way possible. The Bicicloteca for the homeless was born after a meeting I had with Robson Mendonça, a former street dweller who left the streets after having read “Animal Farm”. The institute donated the first Bicicloteca and the others were subsequently donated by private initiatives.

Over the course of a year, the Bicicloteca carried out more than 107,000 loans without any bureaucracy, drawing on a collection of more than 30,000 books. Currently, the Instituto Mobilidade Verde works to oversee the project and its expansion to other NGOs interested in adopting it. The Bicicloteca also lends Braille books for the visually impaired, promotes activities in public squares and holds historic walks [pt] through the streets.

All this work has had a positive impact, and an example of its recognition is the fact that IMV and the Bicicloteca initiative have been nominated for the Prêmio Cidadão Sustentável (Sustainable Citizen Award) [pt] in the Environment and Culture categories.

Even in the face of adversity, which could have brought an end to the work, the whole of São Paulo city showed its goodwill and respect. In September 2011 the Bicicloteca was stolen, but significant repercussions from the local media contributed to the equipment’s recovery. This adversity was transformed into mobilisation on Movere [pt], an online crowd funding platform. The video below was used to appeal for 12 thousand reais to build two Biciclotecas:

Continuing to innovate, the Bicicloteca also takes free solar-powered internet access [pt] wherever it goes. And it’s not just for the homeless. With no restrictions, the Bicicloteca democratises access to information, entertainment and culture for the general public, workers and students.

In Brazil, wherever the Bicicloteca goes it carries the message that a book can change a life. With this same idea, the organisation Libraries Without Borders, for example, makes reading possible for those at risk and in need in Haiti, setting up mobile libraries to serve the local population. The world has more than enough space for creative approaches to libraries.

Image via Green Mobility

  • Noel

    A wonderful simple idea that can transform the lives of the homeless.

    The Quakers [www.qha.org.uk] in London have a mobile library that serves the homeless,this has been operating for 13 years and is run by volunteers.
    It has a regular schedule and has  a wide range of books in English and other languages.