Bronwyn’s Library Blog

Living Libraries

Posted by bronwynr on September 27, 2008

Via the Our community ( newsletter 

In another example of library-based innovation, a community-building initiative focussed on developing connectionsand reducing prejudice has begun to spread across Australia from the far north coast of New South Wales

Australia’s first Living Library was established in Lismore almost two years ago, based on a European model established in 2000.

The program involves people from different backgrounds who wouldn’t usually meet being brought together for half-hour conversations. “Patrons” can borrow a “book” – which is in fact a person – and talk with them in the library (which may or may not be an actual library).

The human books might, for example, be from different religious faiths, diverse cultures, have different sexual preferences or have a disability.

Encouraged by the project’s success, Lismore City Council secured a grant from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to create Living Libraries Australia.

There are now 60 across the country.

National Living Library Strategy project manager Shauna McIntyre, from Lismore City Council, said Living Libraries had been very successful in increasing understanding and developing connections in local communities.

Through conversation, communities are brought closer together, attitudes change, prejudice and fear are reduced and social inclusion is strengthened.

If you would like to establish a Living Library in your area, the Living Libraries Australia site – – provides plenty of information.

A Living Library can be established as a one-off or regular event, and it can stand alone or be part of another event.

Living Libraries Australia suggests that in early development, the idea should be discussed with others in a community to generate support. It recommends establishing an organising committee and a memorandum of understanding, to ensure aims are shared.

They also suggest you choose as a patron someone who is widely supported in the community, but who also has experienced discrimination.

You are encouraged to include in the program people who bring challenging issues with them – such as homeless people – as well as high-profile people who also experience negative stereotyping, such as police officers and veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

A resources kit says recruiting “living books” is probably easier than you imagine, and can be done through word of mouth or by approaching people from groups in your community which you know experience discrimination.

 The kit says a good living book is:

•reliable; someone who answers questions honestly;

•willing to help others learn; someone who can be clear about their lifestyle without preaching about it;

•a good listener; not too talkative

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