Check out a prejudice at the Living Library

Davina Morgan-Witts, BookBrowse editor

A Living Library event looks much like a conventional library - tables and chairs are set out for study, librarians staff the check out desk and borrowers can browse a catalog of books.  The difference is that what's on loan are not books but people!  The heart of The Living Library are Living Books - people that, for one reason or another, are subjected to stereotyping and prejudices. All are unpaid volunteers.

The concept is simple; interested participants check out a Living Book on a topic of interest and spend 30 minutes in discussion with the particular Book. 

Living Books vary by location and availability.  Popular books include Disabled, Homeless, Funeral Director, Muslim, Immigrant, Homosexual, Refugee and Vegan.  The 'bestsellers' vary by location.  At the first Living Library event in Denmark in 2000 one of the bestsellers was the young Arabic Muslim; in Hungary in 2002, it was the ex-right wing extremist; while at an event in England, the homeless and the ex-gang member topped the list. 
 
The Living Library movement is driven by Ronni Abergel, a Danish anti-violence campaigner.  Back in 1993, five young and idealistic young people, including Abergel, formed an organization called "Stop The Violence" in response to the stabbing of a mutual friend. Seven years later, with 30,000 Danish members, the group was ready to host its first major event - a festival that would put the focus on anti-violence, encourage dialogue and build relations among the festival visitors.
 
75 Living Books were available for check out at this first event - and as the organizers watched the policeman chatting with the graffiti writer, the politician in discussion with the youth activist and the football fan in deep discussion with the feminist, they realized that something special was happening.  Thus was the Living Library born. 
 
Eight years later, Living Library events have taken place in many countries across Europe and are starting to expand across the world, with events in New Zealand, Canada and, most recently, the USA.
 
This Fall, Santa Monica Public Library in California and Bainbridge Island Library near Seattle held their first Living Library events.  They were so successful that they're already planning repeat events in April. 
 
Organizations interested in hosting a Living Library event can request an information pack here, or signup for a workshop. A partial list of upcoming events worldwide is available here (I recommend that USA residents bookmark the page and return every month or so as the organizers promise to announce new USA based events shortly, most likely in Texas and Maryland).

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