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Sunday, April 04, 2010


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a book? Well, this past week I had an opportunity to be one: a "book" in a "living library". When I was first invited to participate in this unusual all-day event, to be held at a local high-school, I was not only pleased to be asked but very curious as to what this would mean and what the exact concept was of the "living library". You know that saying "You don't always know a book by it's cover"? Well, this is kind of like that. It's a unique group participation developed in Denmark to break down prejudices and misconceptions about people. The 'books' in this 'library' have many different titles, just as people have many different roles in their lives. You might look at a book and say "I don't want to read about that. That's a boring/unpleasant subject". On the other hand, once you open the book and start to read it, you might find it is very interesting and intriguing and not at all what you'd first thought just by glancing at it's cover.

Every 'book' in this 'living library' had several titles, just as there are many various titles for books that might cover similar or the same subjects. Or some books might have several different stories within it's covers. It's the same with people. You never know the whole story until you have heard/read it. You'll be surprised at what's inside some of those 'books'.

The idea of the 'Living Library" began in Copenhagen, Denmark initiated by five young people after a mutual friend was stabbed in a brutal attack. These five kids wanted to do something to raise awareness and to use their peer group to educate them against violence. So a youth organization called "Stop the Violence" was formed. You can read more about it and the history of the ''human library" at

Moscropt Secondary School in Burnaby, BC. is the only high school in North America to offer the concept although a few colleges have tried it. You can read a blog about our experiences as 'books' in the "Living Library' at

After participating, I would say that ALL high schools should think about offering this 'living library' opportunity to their students. It might break down a lot of barriers, open up possibilities and help to eliminate prejudices and misconceptions about people. It might
help stop bullying!

The people invited to be in the Living Library were asked to come to the Moscropt School a week before the event would take place so we could be briefed on what was going to happen and what was expected of us 'books'. We chose titles (there could be more than one) and later on, wrote those titles on a paper. Then we all went around and wrote our idea of what those books were about (what kind of people those books were.) It was quite surprising to see the results, some of them rather harsh. Those comments would be later put into paragraphs for 'bios' of the 'books' and circulated to the students who would be visiting the Living Library the following week.

My titles were: "Elder" "Travel and Historical Fiction Writer" and (here's the one that caught the kids' attention! "Wanna--be Crime and Investigative Journalist."
Other titles were: "Anti Capitalist Activist" ,"Adopted as a Child", "Young Adult Gay Male Survivor of a Brain Tumour" , Costume Designer/Former Figure Skater" "Omni Sexual/Drag Queen/Photographer: "Ex Gang Member/Ex prisoner/ Ex addict
/son of a KKK father" Big and Beautiful/ Formerly size 5 and bulimic", "Politician/MLA" "Person with a Disability" Gay Lawyer/Farmer/Figure Skater" "Plumber" (this was a single parent woman!) and many others. We were given tips about"what makes a good book" and "how to be a bestseller", how to initiate discussions with the 'readers' and the general protocol of being a 'book'.

On the day that the Living Library program took place, we met at 8.30 in the school Library and were given cardboard signs with our book titles and sat at tables where the kids would come to 'read' us,. The school classes took turns coming into the library and were escorted by volunteer students to whichever 'book' they wanted to 'read'. Usually there were two or three kids at a time, although occasionally only one student came and, in the case of the ex-gangster/addict/prisoner/son of a KKK father, he had swarms of kids around him all day long. And so did the gay books. You would never know to look at the 'books' who they were or had been so it was very interesting to hear the questions the kids asked and see their reactions. I think this is an excellent way of educating people about others who live very different life-styles and in this way it breaks down those prejudices and misconceptions.

My 'readers' were mainly interested in travel, where I'd been and good ideas for budget travel for students. A few were really interested in the writing aspect of my life and were kids who aspired to be writers too. I answered questions about 'voice' and 'setting details" One special coincidence happened when a young fellow said "I don't write but my grandfather does. He used to be a writer for the Vancouver Sun". It turned out that his grandfather was a reporter/BC history writer who I had great respect and admiration for when I was a copy runner at the Vancouver Sun newsroom back in the 1950's. Another young man, who is from Bangladesh, expressed an interest in visiting surfing beaches. I told him my grandson was a surfer who lived in California. This boy has never surfed but that is his dream, and part of the dream is to return to Bangladesh where there are some good surfing beaches. One of the volunteer students sat down with me at the end of the day and it turned out he was a Macedonian Greek from Thessaloniki. We had a vibrant chat about places both he and I love to visit such as Thassos Island. I thought that he was much like my Iskander in Shadow of the Lion -- not only with his intelligence and curiosity but his looks were what I visualize Iskander to have been like.

The entire day was an amazing experience and although I came home at the end of it feeling exhausted, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I not only learned a lot about my 'readers' but I hope they learned something from 'reading' me as well.

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1 comment:

Julie H. Ferguson said...

Thanks for this post! What a tremendous idea - I love it. If ever there is a next time, sign me up too!!