A garbage man saved 25,000 books and turned them into a library. The pictures are amazing.

There is no such thing as book heaven. Unless you're in Bogota, Colombia, and know an angel named Jose.

What do you do with old books?

You might pass them along to a friend, donate them, or add them to one of those Little Free Libraries. But, let's be honest, a good amount of used books end up in the trash.

If you live in Bogota, Colombia, the person who picks up your discarded book might be José Alberto Gutiérrez. And if Gutierrez finds your old book, it is one lucky little book indeed.


Gutiérrez at work. Photo by AP Photo/Fernando Vergara.

For the past 20 years, Gutiérrez has been on a mission to save discarded books.

Bookshelves piled on top of bookshelves? Looks like my room. Photo by Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images.

Gutiérrez, a garbage man, saves old books that other people have thrown away. Books are usually left separate from the rest of the rubbish, and if they're in good condition, Gutiérrez picks them up and takes them home.

Though Gutiérrez's collection started with a single book (Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina"), today the total number of recovered reads has grown to roughly 25,000 at last count. The books take up the entire ground floor of his house, stacked up into great walls and mountains of pages.

"I want that one!" Photo by Fernando Vergara/AP.

As the collection grew, people began to take notice. Visitors would ask if they could borrow a book or two to help their kids get ready for school.

The whole endeavor is now a community library: "La Fuerza de las Palabras" — "The Strength of Words" in Spanish.

Think of how much they must weigh! Photo by Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images.

Gutiérrez's family helps run the project, coordinating pickups, doing the administrative work, and organizing events.

But more than instilling a love of books, the program is also about giving kids a leg up in education.

Gutiérrez lives in the La Nueva Gloria barrio, a low-income neighborhood in southern Bogota. When he started, the community's single school didn't have a library of its own. A donation from Gutiérrez helped fix that.

In fact, since he's started, Gutiérrez has donated reading materials to 235 different schools and communities.

Photo by Fernando Vergara/AP.

"The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids start reading," Gutiérrez told Al Jazeera.

"I grew up, here and I can tell you it got me a Ph.D. in marginalization and poverty," Gutiérrez said. "Kids here don't have a place to study; instead, they have to start working early."

Today the library has become a fixture of the city.

Gutiérrez has been invited to book fairs and profiled by local newspapers. An old, donated ambulance has been turned into a bookmobile. There are even plans to build a real brick-and-mortar building.

The other garbage truck drivers know exactly where to bring books if they find any. There is no such thing as book heaven, but La Fuerza de las Palabras must be pretty dang close.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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