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'Living Library' Coming to U of G

Monday, February 23, 2009

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Written by Lori Bona Hunt

Ever wondered what kind of challenges people with physical disabilities face every day? Or what it's like to survive a disease like cancer? Or how it feels to be discriminated against because of your skin colour or sexual orientation?

People will be able to get first-hand answers to questions like these and more by taking part in Ontario’s first Living Library at the University of Guelph March 5 and 6.

The novel event involves readers checking out books and learning about lifestyles, experiences and challenges that are different from their own. But in this library, the “books” are human beings.

“It gives people the opportunity to actually experience the old adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’” said Michael Ridley, U of G’s chief information officer and chief librarian.

“It’s about people risking to be themselves and other people risking to learn about different people, ideas and cultures and to bridge possible gaps.”

This will be the first time a Living Library has been held at a Canadian university and only the second time such an event has been held in Canada. The concept started in Denmark in 2000, with the purpose of breaking down barriers between different groups of people. That's why the “books” in a Living Library tend to be members of groups that frequently face with prejudice, stereotyping or social exclusion.

"It creates a forum for constructive conversations on contentious issues," said Julia Chapman, a U of G student and editor of the student newspaper The Ontarion, who spearheaded bringing the event to Guelph.

"It recognizes that as individuals, we need to step up and realize that, globally, different opinions exist, different beliefs exist and we should be respectful of this."

U of G’s Living Library will involve more than 20 “books” on topics such as living with a physical disability or a terminal illness; to being a soldier, a gay man or an adopted child; and a survivor of cancer or a violent crime. All of the "books" are U of G staff, faculty and students or Guelph community members.

“I thought it sounded like an interesting event and a unique way to give people a new understanding of other people’s lifestyles and challenges,” said Cyndy McLean, director of U of G’s Health and Performance Centre.

McLean, a former marathon runner and elite-level athlete who was left paraplegic after falling more than 100 feet off a cliff in 2003, will be one of the Living Library “books” on physical disabilities.

The University hopes to have a few "books" on each topic so that numerous people can participate during the two-day event. People will reserve "books" in advance, checking them out for 20-minute periods. There is no limit on the number of "books" a person can take out. “Books” and their readers will meet in a section of the McLaughlin Library cordoned off for the event.

“Libraries have always been about educating people, allowing them to learn things they didn’t know before by providing books and other resources," said Ridley. "This is just another way of doing that and it’s very exciting."

Chapman added that she believes U of G's Living Library will be "the start of something big. I truly hope this event sets an example for the changes we need to make in society. The Guelph community is composed of some very accepting, passionate people, and it's a place where these changes can originate."

For information on reserving a “Book" at U of G's Living Library, e-mail: .

More information about Living Libraries is also available online.


For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt at Ext. 53338, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982, .

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