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2007 Government Award

Winners of the Government category.

James Chen, Managing Director of Multillon with the Living Library representatives (left to right) Luciana Trojer, Lucy Kinsley and Hadia Goldhawk

A unique project to bring people face to face with their own prejudices has won the Multillon-sponsored Government Award at the National Multicultural Marketing Awards presented in Sydney  at a dinner hosted by the Premier and Minister for Citizenship, Morris Iemma.

The Lismore City Council’s Living Library Project is about bringing together people who are different, one on one, in the same way that readers borrow a book, engage with it and try to understand it.

People who have experienced prejudice, negative stereotyping or discrimination put themselves up for borrowing at the regular Living Library days. They wear “book jackets” and name tags and await the borrowers in separate reading booths. They can be “borrowed” just like a book and the loan must be registered. All Living Books develop their own catalogue record and book title

Congratulating the winners, Stepan Kerkyasharian, the Chair of the Community Relations Commission which has been running the Awards for 18 years, said: “This is a wonderful way of getting people to confront their prejudice by meeting it at a person-to-person level.

“I am not surprised that no less than 37 libraries and other organisations around Australia have contacted Lismore City Council seeking information about the Living Library.

“Such a project can make a powerful statement to everyone in a community that if you simply take the opportunity to talk to someone different you will discover the difference is very small.

“I congratulate the Lismore Library on its success in marketing the idea to the local community that this is a worthwhile and beneficial way of breaking down the suspicion, superiority or prejudice that can lead to discrimination. I am sure the City of Lismore is a happier place because of the Living Library”, he said.

The project began when the librarians realised that the one place that the city’s diverse population ranging from Nimbin hippies to indigenous people, refugees, immigrants, retirees, students and gay people could meet each other in a safe, supervised environment was at the Library.

The marketing campaign used all the available local outlets for information – including local radio and newspapers, the neighbourhood centres, and the Adult Community College. Local businesses allow displays of Living Library information in their shop windows. The Council’s website also drives “readers’ to the library to borrow living books. School children were invited to design a book cover for themselves in the project “My Life as a Book”.

“This project measures its success not on the number of borrowings, not on the enormous amount of national media interest and coverage but on the response of borrowers to their experience. Evaluation reports indicate that the borrowers’ assumptions about indigenous people, homosexual people or Muslim people, for example, had been changed in 98 % of cases, by engaging with a living book. This must be worthy of an award”, Mr Kerkyashasrian said.