Experience that Speaks Volumes

Taking life experience to a whole new level and making use of it. Well, they say and I say life experiences and going out there living it can be much more valuable  than putting your nose into a book and living in a bubble. Kinda like “you don’t know until you’ve been” kinda thing.

In that case, I can be 3 or more books. YES! I am a book or 3, damit!!

See you at the library.

Experience that speaks volumes   

The library will soon offer conversations with knowledgeable people known as `books’.

Staff Reporter

It is being heralded as a safe and innovative way for people to have an open conversation about extremely touchy subjects, or just learn about an interesting stranger.

The Living Library program offers the public a chance to sign out individuals known as “books” with a specific knowledge base for a conversation. No topic is off limits – drug addiction, anarchy, rape or religion – as long as the result is a productive discussion. It launched in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000, is free and spread to more than 30 countries, including Canada.

The idea is to challenge people’s boundaries and perceptions by exposing them to individuals they may not otherwise meet.

Next stop, Toronto.

The Toronto Public Library hopes to launch a pilot project at one of its 99 branches this summer. The “books” will be at the branch on a specific day and members of the public will be able to chat with them about their area of expertise.

“The way we would approach it would be to look at people in the community that have knowledge and experience that is relevant to the people of Toronto,” said Linda Hazzan, the library’s director of marketing and communications.

Living Library co-founder Ronni Abergel said Toronto faces big-city issues like violence and racial tension, which is why the program would be a good fit.

“Toronto has matured to the level where it is ready to face this diversity and utilize it,” he said.

The first Canadian Living Library began in Montreal in 2006. A Coquitlam, B.C., college has offered a version since 2006; Calgary and Guelph are planning spring events.

Hazzan said their “books” would be based around the library’s strategic plan. Areas of focus include engaging diverse communities, the growing income gap, creativity and culture, changing technology and sustainability. “We think it would be fun to bring people with perspective in those areas.”


“We thought, why not try to do something to build bridges between people who see each other as opposites … they might see a uniform, or function or sexual conviction but they don’t see the person behind them,” says Ronni Abergel, co-founder who conceived the idea after his friend was stabbed by a stranger. The program, launched in Denmark in 2000, was his way of breaching the divide between people. Says Abergel: “If we felt more at ease in our neighbourhood or schools we would have more life quality, all of us.”


John Fox, 60, is a “living book,” and instructor with the community social service worker program at Douglas College in Coquitlam, B.C. “I think as it catches on, more people will sign people out,” says Fox.

His area of expertise is mental health, having worked in Canada and places like Uganda for 25 years.

Fox would sign out someone with more experience than him on sustainable projects in developing countries, he says. “I would sign that person out in a shot.”


“This whole idea is about not judging a book by its cover,” says Michael Ridley, chief librarian at the University of Guelph.

The university will be holding its first Living Library March 5 and 6.

Its “collection of books” includes a woman who was raped and is willing to speak about the experience.

“We all have to confront these things but how powerful to be able to sit down with a victim. That to me is where this Living Library piece really gets its energy.”


Since 2006, Douglas College in Coquitlam, B.C., has had an email list of interested “books” available to the public.

“The Living Library seemed like a perfect opportunity because we could let people know through the choice of the living books just what a wealth of information and expertise and experience the college contained in its employees,” said Hazel Postma, associate vice-president, external relations.

The college’s first public Living Library was in October. The next will be in March.

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