Living Library coming to Morenci 2009.03.25

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Are southerns all rednecks? Just the sound of their voices lets you know what they’re like.

Why do liberals hate America so much?

Lawyers think of nothing but making money. No ethics; just get rich.

Those silly tree-huggers—such a bundle of contradictions. They’re always against any business development while they plug in their iPod and drive off in their gas-eating car.

You wouldn’t possess any of these ideas, would you? Stereotyping individuals isn’t anything you engage in, is it?

Admit it, we all do it. Small-mindedness about the people who aren’t us is universal.

One way of ditching those prejudices is to engage in the Living Library—an event scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Morenci’s Stair Public Library.

Library director Colleen Leddy learned about the concept from a high school friend who now lives in California. Leddy went to the Living Library website and was hooked. She was intrigued by the idea and spent hours reading about it.

“I found it fascinating,” Leddy said. “It’s such a simple concept...to try to reduce prejudice and promote understanding and tolerance just by getting individuals to discuss stereotypes and issues one-on-one or in small groups.”

In the Living Library, people represent books, such as a volume titled Vegetarian or Feminist or Muslim.

Readers “check out” a book for up to 30 minutes to ask questions and discuss ideas. It’s not a time to challenge beliefs or debate opinions. Instead, it offers Readers the opportunity to discover why a person thinks, dresses, behaves, etc., in a particular manner.

The idea is to uncover the person behind the mask of your stereotype.

“We all have prejudices whether we admit it or not,” Leddy said. “I just think the world would be a better place if we were less judgmental and if we tried to understand where people are coming from, why they do the things they do.

“I like the idea of a person as a Book, because everybody has stories to tell. I think it has the potential to change not just how people look at others, but how they look at themselves.”

She read about the success of the concept at other locations and set about planning for Morenci’s own attempt.

“The Living Library just seemed like a really worthwhile program and a simple program to duplicate at the library,” Leddy said. “I figured it would be an easy and cheap program to schedule.”

Her list of Books now totals 27. Most of the people involved are from the Morenci area, although a few out-of-town guests will participate.

Leddy is hoping for a good turnout of Readers willing to take a closer look at someone they might normally avoid.

“The structure of the Living Library just seems like a wonderful way to ask questions you probably wouldn’t in normal interactions with people you don’t know,” she said.

“Why do you color your hair pink?” “Are you afraid to die?” “What do you do when you want a drink?” “Why are Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh so appealing to you?” “Why don’t you believe in God?”

“Those are not the greatest examples, but you get the idea...you can ask or talk about anything you want,” she said. “The Book doesn’t have to answer anything they feel is too personal and you shouldn’t be mean or try to make the Book cry. But there can be a free exchange of ideas.”

The Living Library concept began in Denmark about 10 years ago and spread to several countries around the world. Even after a decade, it’s still a fairly uncommon program to encounter.

“We’re quite unique in organizing this event,” Leddy said. “We’re the first site listed in Michigan, the first site east of Arkansas—we’re doing this even before New York City.”

Organizing the event took longer than expected—collecting Books was more time consuming than anticipated—but Leddy won’t hesitate to schedule a repeat performance if this weekend’s event goes well. It’s possible that the Living Library concept could become a part of the traditional library.

“We have catalogued the titles in our circulation system, so theoretically, patrons could request a living Book in the future and we could arrange the checkout...without having an actual event.”

She’s heard interest in the project from others in the county, such as Nina Howard at the Lenawee ISD. She was aware of the concept and had considered planning one on her own.

“She’s been really helpful in spreading the word and arranging for Black and Muslim books,” Leddy said.

“And Morenci people have been so gracious about letting me twist their arms. Heather Walker has been a huge help, getting her students involved by suggesting and describing stereotypes [five of the Books are students]. Kym Ries is planning a student art show in the annex—the works all relate to stereotypes.”

Politician. Ex-cult Member. Punk Teen. Conservative. Alcoholic. Pagan. Gay teen.

They’re all waiting to be read, to allow others to gain some new understanding.

“World peace starts with you,” Leddy said.

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