He Was a Garbage Man. Now? They Call Him the Lord of the Books

A garbage man named Jose Alberto Gutierrez has created an incredible gift for the children in Bogota, Colombia and it’s been life-changing. His gift has earned him the nickname “The Lord of Books.” Inspired by his own childhood love of reading, Guiterrez has collected thousands of books for a free library for local children. His passion now helps inspire other children to appreciate the written word.

Becoming the Lord of the Books

Guiterrez credits his love of books to his mother, who read to him every night when he was young. His family was financially unable to continue his education so he was forced to stop his school in the second grade. He grew up reading listening to and great works of literature. The garbage collector names “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “The General in his Labyrinth” as his favorite novels.

Gutierrez sifts through trash for new volumes.

Because Guiterrez loved reading so much, he was surprised to see books tossed in the trash in Bogota’s wealthy neighborhoods. He still remembers the first title he ever found in the trash: Anna Karenina. “That little book set the flame,” he says fondly.

He decided to rescue the books from the trash. He kept up the rescue, and soon had a collection of over 20,000 books. It wasn’t just fiction, either. His collection included non-fiction books, textbooks, and children’s books. Guiterrez says he was taking home 50 to 60 books a night from the rubbish bins!

Opening the Library

Gutierrez’s books soon crowded his house. He decided to give the collection new life. After remembering the excitement he felt reading in his childhood, Gutierrez was inspired to open a free library for the local children. Bogota features 19 libraries, however, many low income individuals don’t have easy access to reading material. The Lord of the Books decided to change that, opening up the downstairs space of his home to the public 15 years ago. The new library, nicknamed “The Strength of Words,” was opened for the local children and became a community library. “Books are our salvation and that is what Colombia needs,” Guiterrez said of his project.

The Lord of Books in his public library.

As word spread about The Lord of Books and The Strength of Words, people begin donating books to his cause. Now he gives back by sending books to hundreds of small towns in Colombia. The hope is that their children too can form a love of reading.

Purchasing books at bookstores is a luxury, and libraries are scarce in some areas, so his donations have made a difference in many lives. Guiterrez also spreads his mission to other parts of the world and he has traveled to book fairs in Mexico and Chile to speak about the library project. He describes the library as a way to connect others to literature: “I think we are simply a bridge between people who have books and those who don’t have anything.”

Even though he’s The Lord of the Books, he still works as a garbage collector, rescuing tomes from the trash. His library continues to grow, and the children of Bogota are thankful.