Monday, September 05, 2005

What a Cool Idea!

At one library in the Netherlands, you can borrow books, but if you would prefer to talk rather than read about an issue, you could also borrow a person for a chat at a pub close by.

Here is the report from the September 11, 2005 edition of The Week:

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.

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.

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.


Kaps said...

Do the books (people) have to be returned in good condition?

Sujatha Bagal said...

Kaps: relevant question. Especially if it's a touchy topic. Whoever those 10 are, they sure must be really motivated to want to do this with complete strangers. It's one thing to explain your culture or beliefs to friends, but totally something else to do that to someone who potentially might have a bone to pick with you and all the things you represent.

By the way, I published this post and then went back to draft some more. The fully drafted version is up now.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Whoa! Getting spammed! A sure sign I've arrived in blogdom!

Unknown said...

Wish They had these librarys at St Josephs ..For finding a book in our library itself is a herculean task...

Anonymous said...

Heh, funny how spammers seem to be ever expanding their reach...not to mention their half baked attempts at disguising their work. Wonder how they get by the word verification systems while posting these comments.

Wasnt there a blog on this very BLAM (BLog spAM) issue somewhere?

Sujatha Bagal said...

Anon: Is that you vignesh?

I turned on word verification after the comment above and the first comment to the post after this one. I haven't had any BLAMs after I turned on word verification, yet. As for the blog on BLAM, I don't know about that one and if you find out, please tell me.