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By Allison MacLachlan
October 20, 2011
4:01 PM

Filed under News

Toronto’s “Human Library” readies collection of living books

Three “living books” took the stage at the Toronto Reference Library Wednesday afternoon in a preview of the Toronto Public Library’s upcoming Human Library event.

Taking place Nov. 5 at four branches across the city, the Human Library lets TPL cardholders book half-hour, one-on-one conversations with people who have expertise or compelling life experiences to share.

“It’s an alternate way to learn and gain knowledge,” says Anne Marie Aikins, TPL’s community relations manager. “It harkens back to older ways of storytelling.”

Wednesday’s preview speakers included ADD/ADHD expert Dr. Kenny Handelman, Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter, and TTC customer service officer Chris Upfold. CityNews anchor Francis D’Souza interviewed each living book to simulate the experience of “borrowing” from the Human Library.

The Nov. 5 lineup of 40 human books includes philanthropists, writers, entrepreneurs, disease survivors, gay rights advocates, street artists, and more. Some of the participants are fluent in other languages.

This year marks the second annual Human Library event in Toronto, but Aikins says the idea behind the initiative dates back to 2000, when a youth organization in Copenhagen launched a human library to combat violence related to homophobia.

“The idea was to bring people together. Maybe if you could just have a bit of time with someone, you would see things differently,” Aikins says, adding that the Copenhagen project brought about “subtle” social changes and attracted a great deal of public attention.

Since 2000, the human library concept has been adapted in more than 30 countries. In Toronto, it will take place at the reference library and at the Cedarbrae, North York Central, and Richview branches.

Living books that may be of interest to a literary crowd include Pedlar Press publisher Beth Follet, Spacing senior editor Shawn Micallef (author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto), and Porter, who said Wednesday that she at first declined being involved because she thought her life in journalism wouldn’t make for an interesting discussion. But Porter kept the preview audience captivated with stories about the emotional toll of reporting from earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Library cardholders can reserve time with living titles online starting Oct. 22.

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