José Alberto Gutiérrez is a former trash collector from Bogotá, Colombia, who spent over 20 years collecting books discarded by residents during his night shifts. Gutiérrez together with his family created a home library called ‘La Fuerza de las Palabras’ which translates to ‘The Strength of Words’. When city residents heard the sanitation worker’s initiative, they began donating books directly to Gutiérrez’s home library. Eventually, Gutiérrez and his family raised enough funding to also start a bookmobile service, as well.
Over the last 20 years, Gutiérrez, who is called a “lord of the books” by his neighbors, collected over 20,000 titles. He amassed such a large collection that they started to donate the books to other neighborhoods of Bogotá and rural areas across Colombia. The books also go to demobilized FARC fighters and help them with resocialization and preparing for new jobs. Additionally, part of the collection was donated to the indigenous community of Huitotacueimaní in the south of Colombia.
The now retired book lover himself even became the protagonist of a children’s book — Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built.