Like every other taxpayer-funded public service, libraries have been hit hard by budget cuts during the economic slowdown of the past several years. Adding insult to injury, fewer people read, and those who do are increasingly likely to use e-readers instead of print books. Those forces have combined to send many libraries searching for new ways of doing business.
One of the most innovative new initiatives comes from the City Centre Library in Surrey, British Columbia, which is scheduled to open next month. Realizing that bound volumes are far from the only source of knowledge, librarians in Surrey will also lend out “living books”—in other words, people. Staff will maintain a list of local residents who have volunteered to share their knowledge of any topic, and other library patrons can make appointments for 30-45-minute conversations.
Librarian Ravi Basi told CTV British Columbia that the Surrey library staff initially imagined the living books initiative as a way to break down barriers between people of different races or religions, but people with interesting careers, life experiences, or academic research topics would make good volunteers as well. The program will certainly give students writing research reports access to information they can’t get on Google, though everyone will be encouraged to take advantage. Giving people a reason to come to the library and connect with their neighbors? Sounds like a win-win to us.