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Brazil: Bicycle Brings Books to the Homeless

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 and has gained 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 at Praça da Sé, São Paulo. Photo from GreenMobility on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Bicicloteca at Praça da Sé, São Paulo. Photo from GreenMobility on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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 changed his perspective, proving that reading transforms people's lives.

Robson Mendonça keeps this path open so that others can follow it, going out into the streets along with those who sell the magazine Ocas [pt], which has already been discussed in another post, or through the Movimento Estadual da População em Situação de Rua [State Movement for the Homeless Population], which is led by Mendonça and advocates for thousands of homeless people.

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. By email, the President of the organisation, Lincoln Paiva, recalled how it all started:

A Bicicloteca é um movimento independente que nasceu em diversos lugares do mundo com o objetivo de chegar onde as bibliotecas tradicionais não chegam e da forma mais simples e barata possível. A bicicloteca dos Moradores de rua nasceu depois de um encontro que eu tive com o Robson Mendonça, ex-morador de rua que saiu das ruas depois de ter lido “Revolução dos Bichos”. O instituto doou a primeira bicicloteca e depois vieram outras doadas pela iniciativa privada.

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 reading “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.

Logomarca do projeto, publicada no Flickr do GreenMobility sob licença Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0

Project Logo, GreenMobility on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

All this work has had a positive impact, and an example of its recognition is the fact that the IMV and 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.

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