“Feminist.” “Ex-neo-Nazi.” “Teenager.”
These are just a few of the new “books” that could go on display at the Toronto Public Library this summer, so says the Star.
But these books won’t be shelved away alongside the rows of paperbacks, nor will they be numbered under the Dewey Decimal system. These books don’t contain letters, words, or even pages. They’re people.
The Living Library is a collection of people who’ve volunteered their expertise on certain stereotypes or prejudices. Their knowledge comes not because they’ve studied up on the topic, but rather because they’ve become experts by experience, lasting through labels, misread throughout their lives. They’ve lived the story, beginning to end, inside and out. When potential customers arrive at the library, librarians encourage these “readers” to openly talk about their stereotypes, encouraging a dialogue on what they feel most strongly about. Upon signing out the appropriate book, the reader gets a personalized question and answer session. And that’s where the magic happens―rather than remaining quiet about a touchy topic, readers can ask away on any specific questions, no matter how tough or awkward, learning and sharing experiences to help understand another perspective. For living libraries to run, both the book and the reader must be open books, willing to share and learn about each other―at least until the book’s due back at the front desk.
Though it’s only recently that North Americans have opened up a Living Library, Europe, always ahead, has been at it for nearly a decade. After their friend was brutally stabbed on a night out, five young Danes wanted to start something to raise anti-violence awareness and educate their peers―thus came a group called Stop the Violence. In 2000, the group held the first Living Library at Northern Europe’s biggest summer festival, Roskilde. It was such a success that Living Libraries began popping up all over the globe, from Iceland, to Spain, to Japan (the CBC did an awesome segment on the Santa Monica Living Library last month). Today, twenty-seven countries host living books at their libraries, and Canada’s putting forth the effort to make itself a big part of the list. Though Coquitlam, B.C. and Montreal have signed out human books since 2006, Calgary, Guelph, and hopefully Toronto, are bringing some life into their libraries this year. Whoever said books are a dying medium was dead wrong.