By Laura Kane, Postmedia News
Gone are the days of rummaging through card catalogues and dusty shelves.
A new library in Surrey, B.C., will be home to a “human library,” with people on loan as living books.
The $36-million Surrey City Centre library, set to open at the end of the month, will allow users to “check out” people and pick their brains about their experiences with blindness, immigration, religion or a disability, among other things. The goal is to break down stereotypes and start discussions, said deputy chief librarian Melanie Houlden.
“What we’re aiming to do is bring the library to life for people. There are huge repositories of experience and knowledge in their own brains,” she said.
People with various personal experiences have already agreed to volunteer, she said. Users will be able to request an “expert” and chat over a cup of coffee in the library’s new cafe.
The idea began in Europe and has already been successfully applied at another library in nearby Coquitlam, B.C., and a local college, she said.
This seems like such a simple idea and yet I’ve never really heard of it before. It seems like it has the opportunity to be a staple program for libraries to offer, so long as it has interest on both sides. To me, this means there should be more advertising, getting the word out both through word of mouth, success stories, and general interest articles in the newspaper (like the one above). I think it needs to be more accessible to everyone, and clearer about the actual experts available – language like “repositories” or “stereotypes” should be left for reports to superiors, and when trying to interest the public there should be more of a focus on what a program like this could do for the average person. A program like this also means that some community outreach initiatives should be taking place to recruit experts willing to conduct meetings within the library. I like how the library cafe in this instance becomes a safe, neutral ground, but I wonder about library liability if any part of this goes wrong? There is a vetting process for most libraries when it comes to employees and volunteers, will this have the same? I also think that there should be a librarian in charge of a program like this, as it has the potential to grow into an important community service, and as such could potentially need a lot of time as a resource.