Street Books is a bicycle-powered mobile library serving people who live outside in Portland, Oregon. Founded in June 2011, the street library offers a means to check out books for patrons who are unable to do so from regular libraries because they lack identification or proof of address. In nearly a year of operation, hundreds of patrons have been served, many of them becoming regulars who return weekly to the shift to return books and check out new ones. Patrons are invited to be photographed with their books of choice, and contribute their own reviews or stories from the road. These stories can be viewed at Streetbooks.org.
Street Books is committed to providing good literature, and conversations about literature, for those who are often pushed to the margins. Patrons have checked out hundreds of paperbacks in all genres, from sci-fi to romance to memoir, by authors ranging from James Patterson and Jeannette Walls to Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King. Street Books has created a greater engagement between its patrons and the larger housed community, and built a bridge with literature between the two. The Street Books project has been featured in national and international media, including Library Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Newstalk Radio in Ireland.
Why is reading vital?
Reading is a powerful act and can be a way to transport oneself out of bad circumstances, a ladder on which to climb out of oppression. In reading, we can lose ourselves in a great story, but we can also experience the sensation of discovering the truths we have in common with one another.
Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since winning the prize:
Since Street Books came to NYC in 2012, we have continued to grow and develop. We have received grants and fellowships from the Collins Foundation and the Awesome Foundation. We have been featured in the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times, as well as many Oregon magazines and newspapers. Street Books has expanded to run three library shifts per week in different parts of Portland, including the Workers’ Center, where we provide laborers with books in Spanish. We have a board of directors that includes one of our former library patrons, Ben Hodgson, who now has an apartment, and we are officially a 501(c)3 nonprofit. This summer will be our fifth season loaning books to people who live outside. [We want to thank the National Book Foundation for recognizing us back in 2012 – it was huge to receive the Innovations in Reading award during a particularly rainy season, and it gave us the momentum to carry through to the next season.