street reads

We’re always encouraging people to go to their local library—it’s free we remind them and it’s for everyone–you will find treasures. But to join the library you need an address. So what happens if you don’t have one and you still want– even need– to read?

Since 1999 Quaker Homeless Action  has been providing a mobile library for homeless people in Central London. In a sensitive article ‘What Books mean to Rough Sleepers – and the library that helps them’ Emily Rhodes describes how one Saturday afternoon she watched the library at work: “The library van comes into London twice a week, and lends out books to more than a thousand homeless people a year. Borrowers only have to give a first name, not always their real name, and may take out two books for up to two weeks.” According to Crisis, Emily writes, “more than a third of homeless people in the UK say they often feel isolated and lack companionship. This was all too palpable that Saturday afternoon, but books are a way to counter this. The mobile library is a much needed hub around which conversations stutter into gear.”

Slightly different in action but with the same values at heart, Street Books is a bicycle-powered mobile library founded in 2011 in Portland, Oregon to serve people who live outside. Patrons get an official Street Books library card without having to show proof of address or identification. Street Books say: “We are committed to providing good literature, and conversations about literature, for those who are pushed to the margins. Since June 2011, we have checked out thousands of paperbacks in all genres, from sci-fi to romance to memoir. Street Books… fosters engagement between our patrons and the housed community, and good books and conversations form the bridge.”

Which brings us to Street Reads @streetreads, an Edinburgh-based scheme started recently by former professional opera singer Rachel Cowan. Rachel told us: “I founded Street Reads a few months ago because of a conversation with a friend who lives on the streets near my home. She told me that many homeless people are keen readers and that sometimes a book can be even more precious than food. … I felt strongly that anyone who loves to read MUST have books in their life regardless of their circumstances. And that perhaps in some small way, I could help.”  Rachel takes books to various shelters and soup kitchens around the area and is already attracting attention. She says: “We often have a chat about books or life in general and they take away a book (or three!) for free. I believe passionately that a book can be a vital escape from a hard world. It can banish boredom and depression, bring solace to long barren days and allow the reader truly to be himself, untouched by the stigma that surrounds homelessness. A book is not a luxury. It is a gateway to other worlds and opportunities that every person deserves to have.” Or, as one of the regular readers told her, ‘These books are a life saver for me—“

Give a Book is greatly looking forward to working with Street Reads.



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