Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Living Library

According to the LA Times, the Santa Monica library has come up with a creative idea.
On Oct. 18, the Santa Monica Public Library hosted an unusual interactive event called "The Living Library," in which people were the books and could be checked out for half an hour's conversation. Borrowers were instructed that "the Reader must return the Book in the same mental and physical condition as borrowed. It is forbidden to cause damage to the book, tear out or bend pages, get food or drink spilled over the book or hurt her or his dignity in any other way."
What an interesting idea. I'm not sure I would want to be a book (mostly because I'd worry that no one would want to check me out). I'd like to be a patron though. But would personal issues cause me not to check out a person I was really interested in? It seems that can be a risk.
The first hurdle was the choice of book; the kids had quickly decided to take out a book together. The list offered at the Living Library desk included a Buddhist, a nudist, a raw foodist and many other specialties that didn't necessarily rhyme, such as a fat activist, a feminist, a Oaxacan American and a celebrity publicist. The children briefly considered taking out a formerly homeless person, because they always have questions for their parents about how people actually manage on the streets. However, they rejected that notion as too embarrassing.
Turns out that the idea originated in Europe where, apparently, embarrassment is less of an issue.
"The Living Library" idea originated in 2000 in Denmark, the creation of anti-violence activist Ronni Abergel, as a way to overcome prejudices, bring people face to face with others they wouldn't encounter in daily life and encourage dialogue that might dispel misconceptions. The program has been repeated in many countries, and the "bestseller" -- the most highly sought-after book -- has often been a politically charged character. At the first Living Library in Denmark, one of the hits was a young Arabic Muslim; in Hungary, a former right-wing extremist.
h/t to Bookninja