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At one Swedish
library, you can borrow books--and a lesbian

At one Swedish
library, you can borrow books--and a lesbian

A Swedish library, realizing that books are not the only things being judged by their covers, will give visitors a different opportunity this weekend--to borrow a Muslim, a lesbian, or a Dane. The city library in Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city, will let curious visitors check out living people for a 45-minute chat in a project meant to tear down prejudices about different religions, nationalities, or professions. The project, called Living Library, was introduced at Denmark's Roskilde Festival in 2000, librarian Catharina Noren said. It has since been tried at a Copenhagen library as well as in Norway, Portugal, and Hungary. The people available to be "borrowed" also include a journalist, a gypsy, a blind man, and an animal rights activist. They will be available Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with a Malmo city festival and are meant to give people "a new perspective on life," the library said in a statement. "There are prejudices about everything," Noren said. "This is about fighting those prejudices and promoting coexistence." Borrowing a person will be free, and the library will also provide coffee at its cafe where the "living books" will answer questions about their lives, beliefs, or jobs. "It's supposed to be relaxed and human-to-human," Noren said. Malmo, located on Sweden's southwestern coast, has one of Sweden's largest immigrant communities. It is also located just a narrow strait away from Denmark, and centuries of warfare between the countries has been replaced with a friendlier rivalry in recent decades. Still, both nationalities have several stereotypes about their neighbors. "Danish Radio called to ask what prejudice we have about Danes," Noren said. "They had some tough questions for me." Interest in the project has been high, Noren said, although the library does not allow bookings--the human subjects will be checked out on a first-come, first-served basis. And it will not necessarily be people with prejudices who will take the opportunity. "It could be that you're about to belong to one of these categories yourself, such as someone losing their eyesight," Noren said. "Or it could be someone who just found out their child is a lesbian. But then there are people who just want to unload a lot of anger. These people [who get borrowed] are ready for anything to happen." The "living books" are all from the Malmo area and were recruited via different organizations and associations. However, it wasn't possible to find suitable subjects from all desired professions. "We would have liked to have a police officer and maybe a meter maid," Noren said. (AP)

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