PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A long time ago, Multnomah County created a literary culture. Its public library dates back 140 years and is the third busiest one in the country.
Laura Moulton is hoping to make just as big of an impact from a small basement in Northwest Portland.
“I think people come to the library for a variety of reasons, and part of it, I think, is being able to lose yourself in a book for the time,” said Moulton.
She’s spending the winter months organizing hundreds of books with Ben Hodgson’s help. The once homeless Air Force veteran volunteers for the 44-year-old writer-turned-librarian.
“I wasn’t exactly Laura’s first customer, but I was one of the main borrowers the first season,” explained Hodgson. “Laura had this really bright idea one day: ‘Hey, I think I’ll go ride my bike around and see if anyone wants to read these books,’ and it just sort of snowballed.”
In 2011, Moulton started the non-profit called Street Books. Every summer, she and several volunteers pedal around Portland to serve people who live outside.
Her brother helped her build the box on wheels that serves as the mobile library that, when she spoke with KOIN 6 News, Moulton had set-up outside the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp.
“Early on, I wondered, is this going to be helpful at all,” said Moulton. “It’s a bit of an audacious proposal to go out and say, yes, I know you’ve been sleeping on a piece of cardboard for three nights, but here’s a paperback book.”
But in nearly five years, Street Books has thrived. Moulton has served some 3,000 people and can often provide them books she has learned they like.
Community members usually donate the books and Moulton doesn’t require anyone have a library card – she just expects a handshake and more times than not, the borrowers bring the books back.
“I give them authors they can read and they give me authors I can read,” explained one homeless man, who didn’t want to be identified. “It’s kind of neat there’s that common denominator between people we can share.”
“What I realized from Street Books is how similar we all are and how much we connect around reading and ideas,” said Diana Rempe, a Street Books librarian.
The bond between the librarians and borrowers is no novelty. Rather, the bond is life changing.
“This was just a perfect thing,” said Hodges, who stopped sleeping on the street not long after he started working in the non-profit’s storage room.
“At the end of the day, I’d be back at the campsite, totally jazzed, re-living it all in my head,” he said. “So, yes, sure it helped; it’s morale building, most definitely.”
There’s an old saying, “We read to know we’re not alone” and in this new culture Moulton has created, there’s a crowd whose passion continues long past the final page.
You can sponsor Street Books this holiday season, or year round. Your support will fund librarian shifts, bike maintenance, community outreach and book purchases. Find more information on the Street Books website