By Jenny Che/nydailynews.com – It’s the complete interior of a bookstore, turned inside out. In Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, you’ll find the young, old and everyone in between flocking to the Reading Club 2000, a public library operated by a quirky local from his childhood home.
Hernando Guanlao, who is known by the nickname Nanie, works from the idea that “there are no rules.” Anyone is free to come back and get a book to read, and keep it as long as they like. And if they want, they can even keep it permanently.
“It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. They’re telling me they want to be read… they want to be passed around,” Guanlao, who is in his 60s, told BBC.
In “the library on Balagtas Street,” as locals call it, around 2,500 books are jam-packed onto shelves that span the entire length of the front façade of the house. Paperbacks and textbooks fighting for space, andin its 12-year history, the library has only grown in its collection.
Guanlao sees a constant influx of books coming in: large boxes are often waiting at his doorstep, and as a result, more and more books have crept into various crooks in his old home. Dog-eared covers can be seen filling the driveway and even along the staircase, although Guanlao doesn’t keep an inventory of everything he possesses.
Guanlao started the library in 2000 following the death of his parents, who had imbued him with a love of reading. Searching for a way to honor their memory, he hit upon the idea of opening a library in the very streets that locals walked regularly. He collected books from his family, built four wooden shelves outside his door, and opened the library.
Guanlao studied accounting in college and dabbled in a variety of fields afterwards. He worked in commerce, sold ice cream and helped local neighbors file their taxes on the side.
Initially, people thought that he was selling the books. It took some time before visitors understood that they were free to take any that they were interested in, with no obligation to the books’ owner. The library is open even at night, and Guanlao leaves it unmanned so that readers could pick up and drop off books at all hours.
If a title that matches a particular reader’s interest arrives at the library, Guanlao always tries to bring it to his or her door. To help out the poorest communities in Manila, he’s started using his “book bike,” which is piled tantalizingly high with books.
Business owners, shopkeepers, children and locals all come to the library, and numerous others come to support it with book donations. One local said she wanted to support the many Filipinos who have limited access to books: the national library in Manila, for example, is too far away and does not have books to loan. Meanwhile, bookstores sell for 300 pesos per book, or seven dollars, and imported books can cost more than double that amount.
On some nights, Guanlao plays movies on his laptop and shows it anyone who comes by. Eventually, he hopes to expand his library to other locations and make it into a larger-scale mobile library; he is also helping a friend develop an idea for a “book boat.”
“A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message,” he said. “As a book caretaker, you become a full man.”
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