There’s a delightful phenomenon sprouting in local communities – the rise and rise of ‘Street Libraries’. These miniature libraries are appearing on front lawns, in parks, street corners and even in shopping centres. The books are free to borrow and can either be returned or exchanged for another book. Being an aficionado of all things books, stumbling upon a tiny outpost of literature necessarily means punctuating my journey with a quick flick through the titles. The capsule size collections never fail to enchant – from dog-eared science textbooks to classic Aussie Winton to dystopian trilogies. Street Libraries are a precious glance into the collective bedside table of the community they serve.
Libraries have long existed, so why are we now seeing individuals choosing to open their space to passersby and sharing their reading preferences with a broader audience? I think it’s probably connected to an age old desire to share stories and to connect with one another. Reading can be incredibly social, the pleasure is as much about the conversation afterwards as it is about the book itself.
The power of conversation to connect with one another got the team at the LRC thinking about how we could bring our books alive. It occurred to us that while we have books that can be borrowed, shared and learnt from, we also have a tremendous human resource right here in our community. This year we have been experimenting with ‘living libraries’ wherein our staff have been acting as a resource for students by offering their expertise through shared stories and conversation.
In Term 1 we ran an immersive experience for Year 8 English while they undertook a unit of work entitled Road to Refuge. At one of the stations, Library Services Specialist, Ms Shah, shared some of her experience fleeing Pakistan as well as what it was like arriving in Australia. Currently, Year 7 Religious Education are undertaking research on world religions and their study has brought them to the library for a scavenger hunt. Working in small teams the students must discover items of religious significance, decide which religion they belong to and then jot down a couple of interesting points. The groups are using books as well as QR codes linking to web content such as useful sites and short videos. This year, Mrs Gupta, Head of Social Science, generously gave up her free time to join the classes and act as a living library. Mrs Gupta was able to talk to the significance of a puja table for adherents of Hinduism. Indeed, many of the items adorning the table came from her personal collection.
Living Libraries offer an opportunity to connect with people you may not normally have occasion to talk to. In this instance, we wanted to show the students the diversity of our own community. In both instances the students were invited to better understand the life experiences of others and to challenge their own assumptions. The environment is safe and mutually respectful. Where knowledge gleaned from a book may necessarily remain in the abstract, our students were able to ask questions thereby firming the connections between new information and how it relates to their worldview. Curiosity piqued, the Year 7’s gained in confidence and asked Mrs Gupta even more questions about the significance of the items on the table as well as asking her to share other knowledge. I have included a couple of responses from Year 7 students who wrote to the library after their lesson.
“Thank you for helping us learn about the different religions. I liked that there were people who actually told us about their own religions in person because it gave us an insight to the rituals and customs.”
“Thank you so much for the lovely lesson on Tuesday. I recently travelled around Europe and visited a variety of Muslim and Jewish countries, and this lesson really helped to expand my knowledge. I really enjoy learning about different religions and cultures, and visiting the different stations on Tuesday was really fun!”
I suppose just as the street libraries springing into life around our community speak to the fundamental human desire to connect, in the library we have realised that we all have stories to share and in the right conditions that sharing of experience can be a powerful learning tool. In The Library Book by Susan Orlean she writes of the role libraries have in understanding and documenting human experience as, “a puzzle the library is always seeking to assemble – the looping, unending story of who we are.”
Ms Elizabeth Green
Learning and Knowledge Strategist