The Footpath Library: books for homeless readers

Over the summer holidays, when I was walking my dog in the mornings, I noticed an older guy who was often in the local park, lying under a tree reading, losing himself in a book the way all committed readers do. After a few days it dawned on me that he was homeless.

I was struck by the fact that my husband and I had just spent days culling our overflowing bookshelves of volumes we no longer had the space to keep. My husband had become tired of lugging heavy boxes of books down to our local thrift shop. Our book collection had become a problem to us; the reader in the park was a stark reminder of a very different problem faced by the many people who love reading but do not have easy access to books.

As usual, google informed me that someone else had already thought about all this. The Footpath Library, an organisation that distributes books in good condition to homeless readers, was set up in Sydney in 2003 by a volunteer who noticed a homeless man reading a novel under a street light while he waited for the nightly food van. From Sydney, the Footpath Library has spread to Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. They’re not big yet, but they are growing.

The organisation welcomes donations of new or secondhand books in good condition. There are some restrictions: they can’t accept textbooks or books of true crime, for example. But children’s books are welcome along with many types of fiction and non-fiction for adults. Read more about how to donate here.

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