Here is the report from the September 11, 2005 edition of The Week:
Most of us have already filled this role of walking, talking reference libraries for our friends and colleagues, sometimes even complete strangers. I've been pumped for information on arranged marriages, Indian cuisine, labor pains, and traveling to India, just to mention a few.
Hand it to them for being innovative. A public library in Almelo, Holland, is lending out people in a new initiative aimed at challenging stereotypes.
Besides books, people can borrow gay people, gypsies and Muslims for an hour and talk to them about their lives. "Clients can borrow a muslim woman in a head scarf and ask her the questions they would not dare to if they met on the street," said Jan Krol, director of the library.
The library has contacted 10 people from different backgrounds who are willing to have a chat with its visitors in a nearby pub.
Once, a fellow commuter on the Washington metro just leaned over and pointed to a word in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. He wanted to know what "dhobi" meant. I could not only tell him what it meant (which he could have easily found out from the internet), but was also able to paint a picture for him with all the details filled in.
Sometimes getting your information out of an encyclopedia is just not enough. You need the interaction, the back-and-forth of a discussion to learn about something to your satisfaction. You may not get all the answers and you may not agree with all the answers you get, but you get to see a red-blooded human being articulating a point of view. Which must make it real.
It sure would be interesting to find out how this program is running six months from now.