November 13th, 2008
This is London, in Edinburgh the living books wore black T shirts
How odd that none of our local press took an interest in this event, Scotland’s first Living Library. In other cities (from the first event in Copenhagen to the latest UK event in Bradford) the place has been crawling with reporters and cameras. If I hadn’t been rushing off to meet my boys and girls for a pre-birthday bonfire party I would probably have rushed home to write about it last Saturday afternoon. Becoming a living book was a really extraordinary experience.
The Lisbon event
I’m treating myself to a birthday blog (it’s three years old today!) though I could be doing some work. But, come on, it is my birthday and one of the main reasons the boys gave me this blog was so I could write (and occasionally rant) about stories that newspapers don’t cover. This time I won’t rant about the old media who don’t know a good story when it is staring them in the face. Instead I want to grab hold of the memory of the Living Library, already almost a week ago, before it fades too far into the past. Since I have no pictures of the Edinburgh event I am downloading some of the excellent images from the Living Library website (and thank you Ronni for saying I can).
Flashback to last Saturday. On the way to the Festival of Libraries I began to get cold feet. Who would want to ‘read’ the blogger? What if no-one wanted to take my book off the shelf? I decided it wouldn’t matter because there would be plenty more interesting books for me to read.
Sadly I never got time to read anyone else’s book. The Living Library brings ‘books’ (real people with a story to tell) face to face with the borrower who wants to ask questions. My first borrower was already waiting when I got into Adam House – a nice, sensitive young man who kindly abandoned technical questions early on in our 30 minute conversation but asked searching questions about the addictive nature of reading and writing blogs and how we can be sure we are dealing with the truth.
A living book in Portugal
For the next two hours people lined up to borrow books from every walk of life. I saw Sikh turbans, Muslim scarfs and big Goth boots. Between borrowings I met up with, Asia, the young librarian from Poland, Alice, the community worker from Zimbabwe, and Shaista the poet from Dubai. I already knew Ryan, the wry Reader in Residence at the poetry library, Simon, the charismatic community policeman in Leith, and Mrs Unis the almost legendary businesswoman. Each one with a terrific story to tell. Each of us different, all of us united in black T shirts with BOOK: BORROW ME in bold white lettering.
The aim of the Living Library project is to overcome prejudice, break down barriers, broaden understanding between people. It occurred to me that an event like this is to some extent self-selecting. People with narrow minds are less likely to venture into the space. And yet, and yet. I confess that I didn’t expect the Goth to be so young and look so sweet. If only I had had time I would have asked him to tell me his story.
But for two hours I was too busy engaging with questions that probed into the heart and soul of blogging. Fraser invoked Orwell to ask if blogging, like any other writing, is a form of vanity (of course!), George asked how it compares with my former newspaper writing; have I managed to find my own voice (I honestly don’t know, I find it difficult), Christina made me envious because she has just started blogging about being an American in Glasgow (ah, what discoveries) and is sometimes compelled to blog six times a day! Kathy admitted she didn’t know what blogging was and wanted to find out (how open minded can you get) and I was so sorry it was time to go when Ian turned up with a genuine interest in sharing news and views of blogging. He said he would read my blog so I hope he found it ok.
That was just my experience. According to Ewan, the Living Library organiser, there were at least 45 book loans during the day (and some were group sessions so many more people were involved). All power to Ronni Abergel, the man who started it all off at a music festival in Denmark eight years ago as a campaign against violence. After Saturday’s event he sent Ewan a text complimenting Edinburgh on the first event, “You can be proud of your efforts to get Scotland off the ground.”
I like that connection between the mobile phone and the live event. As I sat surrounded by people so engaged with one another it kept coming home to me that blogging, the mobile phone and all the networking groups on the internet, are after all simply means to the end that we were experiencing face to face in the Living Library. It is all about making contact with other human beings and ultimately there is nothing better than meeting in person. Or to pinch a quote from Ronni, “We live in a time where we need dialogue.”
I will also post pictures and a less personal report on Leith Open Space.
A living book in Berlin