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Realizing that people without ID or a stable address could not get a library card to check out books, Laura Moulton resolved to bring books to them.
When Laura Moulton lived across the street from St. Francis, a dining hall and parish in Southeast Portland, OR, she struck up a conversation about books with a homeless man named Joe. The two bonded over their shared love for classic Western novels. Realizing that people without ID or a stable address could not get a library card to check out books, Moulton resolved to bring books to them.
With money from a local arts and culture grant, and later a Kickstarter campaign, Moulton founded Street Books in 2011. The nonprofit organization brings books to several areas of Portland using a Haley Tricycle that Moulton bought on Craigslist. Her brother, then an unemployed architect, helped redesign a Depression-era wooden box, adding a pull-out drawer for carting around and displaying donated books. The box carries about 40-50 paperbacks at a time and Moulton stores the rest of the collection in a donated storage locker.
For Moulton and her husband, using a tricycle to transport books made perfect sense. “Part of the appeal of a bicycle library is accessibility,” Moulton explained. “I can bike into a plaza in Portland and set up shop there, creating this space where passers-by are able to come and have a look. It’s different than if I were parking at a curb.”
Moulton’s weekly shift is in Portland’s Right to Dream rest area located in Portland’s Old Town/ Chinatown area. She now has three volunteer librarians who use the tricycle for weekly shifts in different parts of Portland during the warmer months and says that they may eventually upgrade to a fancier cargo bike, but the tricycle has worked well so far.
When the weather cools down, and rain or sleet makes biking around with an antique wooden box impractical, Street Books distributes books at indoor events. These include a fall reception when both Street Book patrons and donors come together. “One of the powerful parts of this project,” said Moulton, “is over time these relationships form and it’s possible to bring these disparate groups together at the same table.”
Susan Johnston is a BC-based freelance writer who has covered small business and lifestyle topics for publications including The Boston Globe, Bust, MyBusiness Magazine, Parade Magazine, SELF, and USNews.com. She recently re-learned to ride a bike after a 21-year hiatus.