Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Texas’ First Living Library Available for Check-Out

The shelves at Igo Branch Library will be stocked full of people on Saturday, April 18, when Texas’ first official Living Library comes to San Antonio. At noon the library will check out their first Living Book to a Reader and before the day is over, we will learn about San Antonians’ eagerness to talk.

From noon to 4:00 p.m. the shelves of the Igo Branch Library will be full of people. A Civil War re-enactor, teenager, woman firefighter, actress, male ballet dancer, Anime expert, librarian, inter-faith minister, tattoo artist, forensic scientist, cabaret singer and sound recording engineer are just a few of the people who will be available to check out for a conversation at the Living Library. The Living Library idea is simple – a personal conversation can break down prejudices and pre-conceptions, and dialogue fosters understanding and tolerance.

“We want to give our patrons the opportunity to check out a living book and experience all of the privileges that entails,” said interim Igo Branch Manager Haley Holmes. “Our readers will be able to ask the books anything and learn about people and professions they otherwise would not encounter.”

During this unique event a group of volunteers serve as “Living Books” who are willing to share their personal life story with a “Reader”. Readers borrow them for half an hour, hear their narratives, question them, even pry a little, and – so the theory goes – break down some of their own preconceptions and stop "judging the book by its cover." Books and Readers have the opportunity to speak in private and personally in a structured, protected, free space for a limited time without any further commitment. Once a Book is returned, Readers can borrow other Books.

Check-outs are for 30 minutes. A San Antonio Public Library card is not required. Depending on demand, a Reader can place a hold on a Book and renew the Book once if there are no holds
and the Book agrees. 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 its dignity in any other way. The Reader is responsible for preserving the condition of the Book.

The Living Library idea was the brainchild of Ronni Abergel, a Danish antiviolence campaigner, who has taken the Living Library to 12 countries and watched it flourish in places as diverse as Australia and Turkey.

"We live in a time where we need dialogue," said Abergel. "With dialogue comes understanding and with that comes tolerance and that's the mission of the Living Library: to promote understanding and tolerance through dialogue."

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