At the heart of the Çankaya district in Ankara, Turkey, there’s an amazing community-led transformation in progress. What started as a personal project by a few sanitation workers looking to do some good, has turned into an upcycled revolution that has redefined the small town.
Several months ago, workers at Ankara’s sanitation department began collecting abandoned and discarded books they would find while on the job. Books of all genres were left throughout the city – in alleyways, waste bins, sidewalks, etc. – and consequently collected by the workers to be cleaned up and refurbished for a chance at a second (or third, or fourth) life.
The men originally intended to open up a small, private library to share with their families and friends. Built inside of an empty brick factory also located at the headquarters for the sanitation department, workers and their families were able to enjoy the newly founded library at their leisure. They had collected enough books to keep all their loved ones entertained, and took it on as a new endeavor to add value to their lives and the lives of others. Well, over the months, the collection began to grow substantially. So much so that locals began to get word of the feel-good project, and started to donate their used books to the collection. This was a nice change of pace for the workers, who were used to digging books out of the trash up until then.
In September 2017, the book heroes of Ankara decided to open up the library for public use. There are currently over 6,000 titles in the publically maintained library ranging across all spectrums of literature, fiction, poetry, children’s titles, and so many more. Bilingual visitors will also find a nice collection of books available in French and English. Visitors can select books to rent for two weeks at a time, and the municipality has hired a full-time librarian to keep things running smoothly around the clock.
Sema Keskaya, one of the municipality workers assigned to the city library project, expressed some of the initial fears stating, “When we first began, we really had a lot of shelves but not so many books. I actually was a bit nervous as I feared we wouldn’t be able to fill the shelves. I looked at the shelves and told myself, ‘We need at least 3,000 books.’ But then we saw how quickly they were filled and now we can’t even keep up.”
Since September, the number of books has increased at a rapid rate. After running low on shelving space in the initial library, the organization began loaning recovered books to local schools, educational programs, and prisons. The atmosphere inside the library has grown as well. Since this is often a popular meeting place within the community, workers have also filled the space with chess boards, lounge areas, and even a tea bar.
After the major success of this locally grown revolution, we hope to see more of this kind of community togetherness in more cities around the world.