Founded in June, 2011, Street Books is a bicycle-powered mobile library, serving people who live outside in Portland, Oregon. Patrons are issued an official Street Books library card without being required to show proof of address or identification. We use an old-school library pocket and a card that patrons sign and leave with us. During our twice-weekly shifts, patrons stop by to check out and return library books. They are invited to be photographed with their book, and these photos and stories are collected at our site: streetbooks.org.
Early on, naysayers said that the books wouldn’t be returned. To be honest, we didn’t know whether or not this was true. We decided to operate the library on the assumption that people living outside have more pressing concerns than returning a library book, and that every time a return came in, it would be cause for celebration. Since June, patrons have returned with their books, or sought us out to tell us they’d be unable to do so. Dustin approached the library cart one week and said, “Laura, I have terrible news.” I braced myself for something awful. “I totally ruined the Hellboy graphic novel you lent me,” he said. “The pages got rained on and they’re stuck together, and I just kept thinking of you looking at the card I signed and wondering, ‘Where’s Dustin?’”
Dante was reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War when the book was stolen (along with his backpack and bicycle). Later he told me that in that moment he used what he remembered from the book, (the importance of positioning in military strategy, the idea of a quick and appropriate response to changing conditions), to stay calm, circle first one city block, then two, in gradually wider concentric circles, until he found his bicycle in an alley. He never found his pack and the book, but he didn’t need it anymore. He carried the lessons with him. Eric hails from Wyoming and now in his 70s, still wears a worn pair of cowboy boots and a western shirt. He is a connoisseur of Louis L’Amour books. Over the summer, Pamela read two Jean Auel novels, but this fall she was ready for poetry. For weeks we searched for her at gritty Skidmore Fountain, where drugs are sold under the Burnside Bridge and shopping carts full of belongings line one brick wall. One day at the end of my shift, as I bicycled across the square, I heard her yell “Hey Book Lady!” What a pleasure to finally find her, and give a Gwendolyn Brooks poetry collection.
We are committed to providing good literature, and conversations about literature, for those who are often pushed to the margins. Since June 2011, we have checked out hundreds of paperbacks in all genres, from sci-fi to romance to memoir. James Patterson to Jeanette Walls to Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King. Street Books has created a greater engagement between our patrons and the larger housed community, and built a bridge with literature between the two.
Currently serving the Right 2 Dream Too Rest Area at 4th & Burnside (10-11:30) and the Skidmore Fountain/Waterfront area, from 11:30-12:45.
Street Librarian Laura Moulton, is an artist and writer living in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about her work at: http://lauramoulton.org
Street Librarian Sue Zalokar is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. An Ohio native, Sue followed a passionate wanderlust and landed in the Pacific Northwest. She lived for many years in the Hoh River Valley, working a small family market garden and responsibly managing twelve acres of alder and evergreen forest. Sue also spent ten years working with the Quileute and Hoh River Nations. Today, she works and volunteers for Street Books and Street Roots. The former, a mobile, pedal-powered library for people living outdoors, the later, Portland’s grass root, nonprofit newspaper, provides income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit http://www.suezalokar.com .