Photos courtesy of Green Mobility.
While wandering through the maze-like streets of Sao Paulo, you might come across Robson Mendonça and his red bicycle. But this is no ordinary bicycle. His ‘Bicycle Library’ is equipped with shelves holding more than 300 works that together weigh 150 kilograms.
The ‘Bicicloteca’ (the name is a fusion of the Portuguese words for ‘bicycle’ and ‘library’) lends books to people who don’t have access to libraries. This is the brainchild of 61-year old Mendonça, a former construction worker who spent a decade living homeless on the streets.
Robson Mendonça, the project's founder, riding the Bicycle Library.
Green Mobility, a Brazilian non-profit organisation which campaigns for sustainable transport in Brazilian cities, helped Mendonça get started by giving him his bicycle. All the books were donated by individuals and organisations.
After just one year, Mendonça has become a familiar face in the streets of Sao Paulo and the Bicycle Library has made more than 107,000 loans from its collection of 30,000 books. There are even some books in Braille. There’s no paperwork involved in borrowing from the library; the service is based on trust and relies on the honesty of its users to return their books.

"Because the homeless have no proof of address they can't take books out of the regular library, so this library comes to them"

Lincoln Paiva lives in Sao Paulo and is the President of Green Mobility, which continues to be involved in the ‘Bicycle-Library’ scheme.
The Bicycle Library was launched a year after we came across Robson Mendonça handing out books to the homeless in the centre of Sao Paulo. I asked him what he was doing and he told me that his life had been completely transformed by reading George Orwell’s famous novel "Animal Farm". Reading this book made him stop drinking and encouraged him to study and look for a job. He was out on the streets because he wanted to share his experience with others. Robson is now the president of a volunteer organisation that campaigns for homeless people’s rights.
The Bicycle Library scheme is based on the following premise: because the homeless have no proof of address they cannot take books out of the regular library, so this library comes to them. The Bicycle Library has got rid of all the bureaucracy that joining a library usually involves. Borrowing books encourages conversation, and our goal is to help homeless people get their dignity back and reintegrate into society. Today, the project is open not only to the homeless but to everybody, regardless of their situation.
“Inspired by the success of this initiative, we’re going to create a dozen more Bicycle Libraries in other cities”
We’ve done our best to make the service as easy to use as possible. The books can be passed around. The person who originally borrows the book is not obliged to give it back to us directly; somebody else can return it instead. Readers are free to do whatever they want.
The Bicycle Library operates from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It moves around every day, frequenting the busiest areas of the city. The bike even has a solar-powered computer with Internet access. Three other volunteers use the computer to run literacy classes and help people find homeless shelters.
Inspired by the success of this scheme, we plan to create a dozen more Bicycle Libraries in other Brazilian cities.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund.