As the daughter of a small town librarian who took me on deliveries in the near north of Ontario in a bright yellow bookmobile, I was tickled to learn about the Biblioburro, a traveling library that distributes books to young Colombian readers from the backs of two donkeys.
I’d been watching TVOntario and saw the story of Luis Soriano included in Alberto Manguel’s – Empire of the Word.
Initiated over a decade ago in the La Gloria area of Colombia, Luis Soriano delivers books twice-monthly to small villages in his area thanks to his donkeys, Alfa and Beto. With a hand painted Biblioburro sign tucked under his arm, it’s a ritual he repeats almost every weekend in Colombia’s war-weary countryside.
Soriano is by profession a primary school teacher. He developed his whimsical take on the bookmobile after witnessing how the power of reading transformed his students who were struggling to live through conflict. Biblioburro was created from the belief that providing books to people who do not have them can somehow improve the lives in this impoverished region.
When he himself was young, the violence of bandit groups was so bad that Soriano’s parents sent him to live with his grandmother near the Venezuelan border. He returned at 16 with his high school diploma and took a job teaching reading to schoolchildren.
In the 1990s, Colombia’s long internal war had drawn paramilitary bands into the area surrounding his hometown of La Gloria, intimidating the local population. It was through this violence that Soriano would travel to communities with his donkeys and a portable library that started with 70 books. He’d take with him some reading texts, volumes of the encyclopedia and novels from his personal stash. Children still await Luis Soriano at stops along the way to hear him read from his selection before they can borrow the books.
Thanks to donations, as of 2008 his collection of books numbered 4,800 volumes. A community library in Santa Marta, nearly 180 miles away has hired him as a satellite employee and the library shares a portion of its $7,000 budget with him. He lives with his wife and kids in a small house with books piled to the ceiling. On his teacher’s salary of $350 a month the budget is tight. He and his wife, Diana, opened a small restaurant, La Cosa Política, two years ago to help make ends meet.
Please check out Luis's blog. http://elbiblioburro.blogspot.com/
photos taken from www.nytimes.com