Friday, March 28, 2008

Living Library

Blue Mountains City Council celebrated Harmony Day on the 20th March with a unique event called the Living Library.

Mayor Jim Angel said when launching the Harmony Day concert, “Harmony Day is about celebrating diversity and fostering respect and appreciation of that diversity. Our local Blue Mountains community has a diverse range of people from a variety of cultures, religions and races. Indigenous people, environmentalists, homeless people, refugees, people of diverse sexuality, retirees, performers and artists are all living here together. The Living Library provides the community with an amazing opportunity to borrow a person instead of a book and have a chat for about 30 minutes. What better way to learn about our cultural diversity than to hear the extraordinary stories of local people’s lives”.

The Living Library event was attended by over one hundred and fifty people including students from local schools. The idea of the Living Library is to promote acceptance and understanding of cultural difference by giving members of the public (Readers) the opportunity to talk to a Living Book and learn about their different experiences and lifestyles.

Twenty six Living Books from the local community participated in the event. They included members of the indigenous and migrant communities, a Holocaust survivor, Vietnam Veterans, people with disabilities and a Sufi. Many readers commented that hearing people’s stories face to face was an emotional experience. “Much more powerful than reading about them”, one said.

One young reader learnt about “the huge impacts alcohol and drugs can have on your life, family and work”. Another learnt of indigenous elder Carol Cooper’s childhood experience of racism. “Talking to Carol was very profound and moving”, she said.

For some of the Living Books the experience was equally moving. Olwen Leask spent much of her childhood living in institutions. One Reader told her: “Talking to you has changed my life”.

State MP Phil Koperberg, who launched the Living Library, talked about his own experience as a child living in many countries around the world. He applauded the initiative observing, “I’ve never quite understood why living together in harmony should be so difficult.” He volunteered to be a book in future Living Library events.

Phil Voysey from Cultural Connexions, one of the organisers of the event in partnership with Blue Mountains Council, hopes to make the Living Library an ongoing feature of life in the Blue Mountains. “There are lots of people in the community with interesting stories to share. Sharing stories is a powerful way to build community,” he said.

Blue Mountains City Council would like to acknowledge the invaluable help of Lismore Library in helping to make this event run smoothly. Lismore Library staff generously shared their experiences and operational knowledge of their own monthly Living Library.