Living library lets readers talk with ‘books’

The average person doesn’t usually find themselves engaged in a conversation with a recovering drug addict who found his footing by becoming a magician and entertainer. However, The Living Library Project, put on by the Calgary Public Library and the Calgary Centre for Culture, Equity and Diversity, seeks to change that. The daughter project of The Human Library, which originated in Denmark, returns to the city after its successful inaugural offering last March.

“[The Living Library] really reinforced in the minds of the people at the event that there is still a need to connect people with that information in a very personal way so that people can see that these are just ordinary Calgarians and that if they had an opportunity to meet someone they could understand their prejudice a bit more,” said Leslie Adams, the Community Learning Advocate for the CPL.

The program is set up to imitate an actual library experience, the difference is the books are human beings. You can “rent” these books for a specific time period then return them to the particular library branch you borrowed them from. During the rental period the patron not only gets to hear the story of another human being, but hopefully to engage in a conversation with their book about their thoughts and personal experiences, creating a mutual learning experience for both the volunteer book and the reader.

“A large percentage of Calgarians are new Canadians or people who may not be familiar with the Canadian culture and so they may have never talked to a person of Aboriginal background before,” said Adams. “They may have never talked to someone who is gay, because perhaps the culture they come from doesn’t openly allow homosexuality, so this really is an opportunity to allow new Canadians to understand Canadian culture. It also helps established Canadians understand new Canadians and other alternative lifestyles a bit better . . . it’s meant to be a dialogue. It’s not just you telling your story, it’s about the other person asking you questions and being open to that, trying to be as honest as possible about your feelings.”

Many post-secondary institutions are hubs for new Canadians, including the University of Calgary. The Living Library offers the opportunity for these students, who may be experiencing some culture shock, to attend an event and learn more about the culture they are residing in. It is also a great way for students to get off of campus and meet new faces.

Adams believes that having to sit and talk to one of these human books is more powerful than reading a novel.

“When you read a book it’s great. But you can’t challenge a book,” said Adams. “Where as when you have a person in front of you, you say prove to me this is going to make my life better.”

Peter Lombrowsky, a filmmaker, graphic artist and illustrator, is one of these living books.

“In my case it was that I lived with my family and my kids without a vehicle in Calgary for 11 years,” said Lombrowsky. “I became this living book that will become about leaving a smaller footprint in Calgary over 11 years.”

Lombrowsky participated in his first event at the Fish Creek Library.

“It’s lived up to all the things, at least for me, that the program was aspiring to in terms of exercising conversation, listening and talking . . . and being able to sustain a conversation.”

Maria Serban, manager of the Center for Preventative Medicine, represents the subject of first-generation immigration and post-communist and post-conflict countries.

She said not only does she appreciate being able to educate people about her own subject, but she would also like to be a reader herself for a day.

“I have to say that when you sit there and you look at the other books, usually you are at a table with six, seven or eight other books, you feel like

see Living library, page 8

you want to be a reader and not a book. You want to check out your own books.” A new development to the Living Library Project this year is the mobility of the books. The Living Books can now go to schools and community events to talk to students and other Calgarians about their life experiences. The library is determined to grow beyond the library setting. The project hopes to be a venue at the Calgary Folk Music Festival this summer.

The Living Library runs until Saturday March 27 at library branches around the city. Information on these sessions can be found on the CPL’s web page.

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