The main aim of the tool is to challenge stereotypes and prejudices through direct communication, storytelling, dialogue. It involves people who share their personal story – the living “books”, and who have been subjected to some sort of discrimination.
The main purpose of the tool is to challenge existing stereotypes and prejudices, to combat discrimination, as well as to give more visibility to members of a community who might face some sort of discrimination, to their personal stories. On the other hand, it can be used for sharing the stories of other people (for example belonging to different professional groups - social entrepreneurs, journalists, writers, youth workers, etc.), in order for young people to become better acquainted with their work, to get inspired by their stories. Another example could be sharing the positive stories and examples of already integrated migrants/refugees, who are the living "books" in the event, while other members of the community are the "readers".
Therefore, the aims can be different, depending on the audience and the concrete objective of the activity, but they are always connected to sharing stories, personal communication and dialogue.
The methodology is related to face-to-face communication and open dialogue, where there are no mediators, but there are “library assistants” who make sure that the event runs smoothly, they introduce the “book” and the rules of the event. The “books” and the “readers” should be informed about the set of rules they need to follow, and they should agree on them. These include the time which is allocated for “reading” the books, rules related to being respectful, the right to ask any question but also the right not to answer any question, etc. The conversation can be ended at any time before the official end of the allocated time for each “book”, if the “reader” or the “book” wish so. The “books” cannot be taken outside of the venue of the event and they have to be “returned” in the same condition as when they were “taken” by the “reader”. The “books” are in a catalog and the “readers” go to the “library assistants”, in order to choose their book and “borrow” it for the allocated time. The setting and the venue of the event are also important, as they create the general atmosphere, and both “books” and “readers” should feel comfortable. In our case we have mostly chosen libraries and bookshops for our Living Libraries.
The preparation for the event is a long process and needs clear goals and good selection of the participating "books", based on these goals. The "books" should be informed in advance about the process, the objectives of the event and what is expected from them. They should be also selected according to the stated objectives (people who have faced discrimination, professions, positive stories of migrants, etc...). There should also be diversity in the "books" chosen.
Finding a venue for the event is also important - it is good to have a public space, easily accessible, with a good atmosphere for such an event. In our case the venues have been university rooms, libraries, bookshops, youth centers.
The promotion of the event is also important - we must make sure that "readers" will come and will be informed about the event as well. Using social media channels is highly recommended, contacting schools, universities, etc. as well.
For the event itself we should prepare a catalog with information about each "book" and we should have well-prepared "library assistants" who know the rules of the process and the "books". When the event starts, all the books should be shortly introduced to the audience, after which each "book" should take their place in the venue and wait for the "readers" to come. The rules should also be explained in the beginning by the "library assistants", who should also keep the time and inform the audience and the "books" when the "reading time" for each session of the event finishes. If the event lasts around 1:30 hours, there could be 6 changes - 15 min. rounds for "reading" 1 "book".
There are no particular materials needed, but there is a long process of preparation of such an event, as one has to choose the "books" in a very well planned way, depending on the concrete objectives. When the "books" are clear, there should be also a "library catalog" and the "library assistants" should be able to assist the "readers" in the process, helping them choose their "books". The venue, as it was mentioned before, is also important, as it needs to create a good atmosphere which encourages dialogue.
The expected outcomes of the activity are related to creating a feeling of “togetherness”, of an open communication and sharing, of empathy and understanding, of going beyond individual identities and realizing that we are all human, and we all have our feelings, needs, and rights, and that no one should be discriminated based on the grounds of any aspect of their personality, identity, ability or lifestyle and decisions. In a broader sense, the Living/Human Library promotes Human Rights and the acceptance of the others, and it combats stereotypes, prejudices and stigma. It helps prevent or end discrimination and its most important characteristic is face-to-face real-life communication, which is a proven tool for achieving these goals.
The tool has been used many times in many different contexts, and it continues being widely used. In our case, we have received very positive feedback from "books" and "readers" when we have organized our Living Libraries in Bulgaria and Mexico. It is good to have a way to receive direct feedback, so there could be short feedback forms and all participants could be asked to fill them in in the end of the event, at the exit of the venue.
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