In Colombia, Have Books, Will Biblioburro - OZY | A Modern Media Company

In Colombia, Have Books, Will Biblioburro

In Colombia, Have Books, Will Biblioburro

By OZY Editors, with reporting by Josephine Basch

Luis Soriano, a teacher from La Gloria, Colombia, reads to children in the village of El Brasil
SourceScott Dalton/NYTimes/Redux


Because libraries are so yesterday.

By OZY Editors, with reporting by Josephine Basch

Sure, there are bookstores, public libraries, Kindles, and audiobooks. But what sounds plenty better for a ravenous reader? Getting your books hand-delivered by a donkey. So long, Amazon.

Maybe not. But call it a South American precursor to home delivery. Biblioburro (literally, ”book-donkey”) is the brainchild of 41-year-old Luis Soriano, a Colombian primary school teacher who spent his days looking around with frustration at the lack of book distribution for young kids in the developing world. It’s a simple enough business model, operating off of $7,000 annually, and consisting roughly of two donkeys and 120 books per trek. Alfa and Beto (los burros) each carry about 120 books on their journeys through the hinterlands of Colombia. Soriano’s goal since the 1990s has been to bring books to kids and help combat the lack of educational tools available outside the classroom, including libraries, additional reading and afterschool help with homework.

Sure, there’s something sugary-sweet to the story, but don’t let it turn you off. We say Soriano’s invented a smart way to get books out there faster, without waiting on Bezos to launch drone delivery.

And we always like to salute great teachers. Over 15 years, Soriano — who lives on a $350/month teacher’s salary — has had to travel some tough terrain, metaphorically and in reality. There are 7-mile treks, and the occasional run-in with thieves who have tied him up and attempted to rob him. The setup is always the same: the donkeys, a portable sign that turns into a bench, a plastic sheet with slots to hold the books, and, of course, a variety of books for children ages 4 and up. Some of the kids who visit him need help with their schoolwork, while others are simply trying to learn to read. 

You can see Soriano at work in the 2007 documentary Biblioburro, which aired on PBS.

All this in a nation with piles of its own troubles — drugs, political corruption, paramilitary massacres. But good books make good homes. Soriano’s home? When he returns from his days of delivery and didacticism, he finds himself back at a house full of books. There are 4,800 of them, and they don’t all fit on his shelves. Good thing he can pack them up to go.

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