Sunday, September 4, 2011

Laura Moulton

The Awesome Woman of the Day is Laura Moulton, artist, novelist, mother of two young children, and outdoor librarian for the homeless in an effort she founded called Street Books, "a bicycle-powered mobile library for people living outside".

Since June, twice a week Moulton gets on her bike and pedals a wagon full of books to street corners in her city of Portland, Oregon. She loans the books to homeless persons who cannot get a library card for lack of an address. She stores donated paperbacks in her basement and glues the familiar school library due-date pocket inside each one. However, there are no due dates in the outside library -- her customers simply return the book when they are done reading.

A recent Christian Science Monitor article about Moulton reports that "her patrons show a high-level of accountability in returning books, which contradicts some assumptions about homeless people." Also defying stereotypes, she says, is the range of reading material her patrons are interested in. She holds much respect for the "people living outside" and enjoys discussing books and other topics with them:

“If someone can just have a conversation … then I think so much of the other stuff goes away,” Moulton suggests. The “other stuff,” she says, includes perceptions, stereotypes, and judgments.
 Moulton also photographs the people who borrow books and maintains a blog with the images and stories. The blog gives her homeless clientele faces and names, and most often shows them with the books they have selected to read.

Moulton received a grant for her idea from the Regional Arts and Culture Council. Now that the grant period has ended, she plans to continue her effort and to experiment with models of sustainability. For example, recently a patron of Street Books became a guest librarian.

I chose Laura Moulton for today's AWOD not because she is famous. Not because she is a head of state. Not because she has given her life completely over to some cause. I chose her because her project proves that in the microcosm of a community, in the course of a regular workaday life, we can find manageable ways to be agents of cheer, humanity and change. The scope of Moulton's project might be local, but her impact runs deep on the men and women she loans books to, and on the attitudes towards the homeless of the people who hear about her work or follow the Street Books blog.

Do you have books you'd like to unload? Also, any old reading glasses? Put them in your car or bag and open your eyes for someone living on the street who might like them. And maybe stop for a few minutes to say Hello, ask How are you doing today? and maybe even get to hear a bit of the person's story. Don't have books to give? Just give a smile and have a conversation then! It's free and takes 5 minutes!

Here's a really touching video about Street Books, guaranteed to dispel any stereotypes you may be subject to regarding the intelligence and spirit of homeless persons: