How to Borrow a Person From the Library

by Liz Colville

First, go to Canada, where the Human Library Project has debuted at the Toronto Public Library. The idea is that you can head to your local branch to have a conversation with someone from a different background than yourself (still under the ordinance of “Shhhhh,” one presumes). Beautiful Canada, land of my forebears. But as Yonge Street Media writes, the “human library” concept actually originated in Europe, of course — Copenhagen, to be precise — about ten years ago.

Toronto’s debuted the project at five branches, and the volunteer “books” actually get to wear name tags with barcodes on them. They also all seem to have fascinating lives, so the average person might just find himself cowering on a shelf for years, never to be checked out. For instance:

A CBC journalist is telling someone about the stories he’s covered. A Tibetan Buddhist monk is talking about his journey to Canada and about the importance of peace. I’m talking to 19-year-old Brandon Hibbs about his life. Originally from Newfoundland, Hibb’s parents moved the family to Windsor, then Toronto to make sure their son, who has cerebral palsy, got the best services he could get. I ask Hibbs about school (he likes history and science), his career plans (broadcasting) and his love life (could be better).

Because the Toronto Public Library is also making thousands of e-books available to patrons, the future of the library could mean it’s just this big cozy lounge where people go to open their minds. Books could be used to prop a person of short stature up to the height of their culturally different converser, or to hurl at someone in anger or self-defense, in case people of two different cultures happen to have a disagreement, or to illustrate how big books are, for someone who doesn’t know, or to create a deliciously musty screen of privacy for the conversers. [Via]

Photo via Yonge Street Media