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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meet Portland's "Street Librarian"

Posted by Alison Hallett on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 11:52 AM

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The Mercury's new location is already paying off: This morning, Steve messaged me to tell me to look out the window, because "There's some weird rolling book thing down there." When I went down to investigate, I met Laura Moulton, who handed me a business card reading "Street Librarian," and explained that she recently received a RACC grant to fund a project called Street Books, a mobile library that provides books for the homeless. (Or "people living outside," to use the website's wording.) The bike-powered library has a small trailer full of 40-odd books—an impressively diverse collection skewing slightly toward regional authors (Jim Lynch, Benjamin Parzybok, Kevin Sampsell, Tom Robbins). While we spoke, Moulton shuffled through a stack of neatly labeled index cards, cataloguing a book that had just been returned—yes, cue nostalgia, she uses a card catalogue system. She told me that although she started the project with "no expectation that books would be returned," she's had about 6 books returned of 25 or so lent out since the project began in early June.

But the project is more than just a useful service for homeless people itching to read Bastard Out of Carolina: There's a documentary component, where Moulton photographs or video-records willing library patrons, and posts their story and book selection on the website. One gent recently swapped in Portland Noirfor a copy of A Common Pornography—Sampsell's a hit with the homeless, apparently. Readers can also share book reviews, as well as their own stories from the road.

If you'd like to support the project, there's a PayPal account accessible through the Street Books website, where you can sponsor individual books that've been requested. You can also check out the cart in person—from 10-2 pm Wednesdays at the Skidmore Fountain, and Saturday 11-2 in the Park Blocks, on Salmon.

Hit the jump for a snapshot of Moulton's small but quality book collection.

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