Organising Living Libraries


Organise Living Libraries

Living Library methodology has proved especially valuable on the inclusion of young migrants and refugees in the local contexts of the participating partners.
The thematic chapter develops on the understanding of the methodology, the reasons why it supports inclusion and its diverse adaptations to multiple contexts.

This chapter provides an overview on the different formats that have been tested and gives orientations and guidelines for the organisers of the Living Library events.


What a Living Library is

What a Living Library is not

Why for Living Library

Different formats for the Living Library

The Booking systems at the Living Library

Preparation of the Human Books


The aim of this Thematic Chapter is to exemplify how Living Libraries methodology may support the inclusion of young migrants and refugees. This is done by strengthening the sense of belonging to the hosting communities, and by encouraging intercultural dialogue within the communities through the implementation of Living Library events.

Living Library methodology has proved especially valuable on the inclusion of young migrants and refugees in the local contexts of the participating partners.
The thematic chapter develops on the understanding of the methodology, the reasons why it supports inclusion and its diverse adaptations to multiple contexts.

This chapter provides an overview on the different formats that have been tested and gives orientations and guidelines for the organisers of the Living Library events.


What a Living Library is

Living Library is a methodology, an activity and a social event which aims to raise awareness and sensibilise people on the themes that are much spoken in the society, often lacking or having partial information, due to not having personal experience in relation to them.

In this library there are no usual paper books, but “human books”. These are persons that have interesting live stories and want to contribute to de-construct the “single story” about their group of people. In our project the Living Libraries specifically aimed to provide readers with “multiple stories” about the realities of young migrants in refugees in the community.

Living Library events encourage the meeting of diversity and de-construction of stereotypes and prejudices through open voluntary conversation and intercultural dialogue within the communities. It brings people together, in order to explore and challenge prejudices. Just like a real library, where books provide an insight to unknown worlds, the Living Library offers its readers the chance to step into the real live stories of other people in an open and frank dialogue. It de-constructs stereotypes and prejudices, dismantles gossips and visualises the wrong and untruthful information which reaches us through conscious and unconscious ways.

What a Living Library is not

Living Library is not a “happening”:
They may be very interesting and even amusing experiences, Living Libraries however require a thorough preparation and commitment from all involved actors. As it deals with human beings and their stories it requires a great degree of empathy and sensitiveness.

Living Library is not a performance:
In the Living Library there are real human books and real live stories that are presented in a frank and open dialogue. It is not a performance where the stories may be invented or elaborated.

Living Library is not a presentation:
In the Living Library there is not an invited expert speaking to a broad audience. The “human book” voluntarily talks about their personal life story (those aspects that they would like to unravel) and it is open to questions and to engage in a frank dialogue.

Living Library is not storytelling:
The Living Library is not just about telling a story but about generating an open conversation leading to dialogue. It cannot be done with a big auditorium but with one or few “readers” at the time.

Why for Living Library

This project works through bringing personal experiences of people’s lives. It means that instead of reading a written story, you can learn the own story of a real person through dialogue with them, actively listening and posing those questions you need further information.

And this way, listening and talking to the “human book” makes an impact on you, which is very distinct, than reading a text.
Listening to a personal story creates emotional connections. Through empathy, the reality of another person may become better understood. The first hand information and meeting a real person who lived such an experience, through dialogue, creates a unique opportunity to ask questions and clarify doubts, which we may not have often in another occasion.

The Living Library events on this project are dedicated to themes of migration and refugees. These are very relevant topics for today’s context as there is a need to address them and to create encounters for dialogue between local inhabitants and newcomers for whom Europe has become their new home. Living Library is one of the ways this can be done.

Different formats for the Living Library

The Living Library formats which were used by our different partners in the KA2 Project Expressions in Dialogue, demonstrate how flexible can the preparatory team of such events be depending on their conditions and resources.

This document analyses the advantages that the diverse Living Library formats bring to the local context where it takes place.

● Open air (outdoor) public events​: Living Library events organised in Barcelona by AHEAD Association and Young Effect Association in Magenta (Milano).

● Open indoor public event​: Living Libraries organised in Tallinn by Trajectorya MTÜ, in Athens and in the Hague by WE Organisation.

● Indoor closed event​: Living Library format organised in Rhodes by the House of Europe

All options are valid and may be chosen according to the target group, the weather conditions, the cultural background of potential readers, the perception of safety for the human books and organisers or the technical facilities and permissions requested for each format.

Open air (outdoor) public event

The 2 Living Libraries of ​AHEAD took place in the open air, inner yard (garden) of the public Library. The area was accessible for the people passing by, for anyone who had time to join at the moment of the event implementation. People were coming to the reception/booking desk, studying the catalogue of the Human Books, and could book their reading session or enter to read straight ahead, in case their chosen book was available.

The same concept was used during the Living Library by the ​Young Effect Association, which took place in the center of Magenta (Italy) in the park nearby the Municipality house.

This way has clear ​advantages​:

●  The random people can be better reached (and their prejudices can be addressed!);

●  Nice and cozy outdoor environment to enjoy;
●  You can reach really many people with the event;

●  Such an open public event ensures visibility in the public space and is good for the reputation of the organization. Risks:

Such events are rather complicated to organize (logistical aspects, requirement of permissions from the local authorities, police,…);
Needs more facilitators, librarians and support the process;
You never know how many people will be passing by at any moment, as it is out of the control (can be nobody and can be too many, that you just don’t have that many facilitators or/and Books);

More efforts to ensure the security and safety: robbers, street people disturbing with their business or noises;

You need a plan B for bad weather.

Open indoor event

This format of the Living Library was used by Trajectory@ and We organization.
These Living Libraries were taking place indoors and during (within) the other greater in scale public events, such as Book Festival (in the Netherlands) and the celebration of the World Day of Refugees (in Estonia).

In this kind of approach you have a number of specific ​advantages​, such as:

●  The visitors of the joint events would happily take part in/explore yours, as they are already there, so, you can reach much public;

●  You can share/be provided with the resources of the other event, as you are in partnership, which saves the budget;

●  You can share the promotional strategy and disseminate better your calls and invitations;

●  You don’t care about the weather: cold or rain…


●  People will be distracted by the other event and your activity will be lost among others;

●  You may lose the attention, because you are the part of greater events;

●  You should carefully set up your event’s spaces in order to be able to well provide support and safety to all of your Living Library actors;

●  You cannot predict how much/few public will attend your event.


Indoor closed event

That was the case of the first Living Library organised by the House of Europe in Rhodes.
The Organisation was aware of its limits in terms of space available and the team’s capacity. They wanted at the same time to target their network’s partners and organizations only and not the wide public.

So, the idea was on a call basis to select 25 participants/readers among its networks.
This format has good ​advantages​:

●  The exclusivity of the event and possibility to focus on concrete target/type of readers;
●  The number of readers is fixed and it is easier to control the process of the Living Library and support and facilitation;
●  The event can be an activity during/together with another activity, relevant for the target group;

●  The organisers get all the data of the readers and can easier access them for evaluation and feedback.


●  You will not address the wider public; often will attend the meeting those people already interested in the issue and well aware of prejudices and stereotypes and not the wider public.

●  If someone leaves the event, it means they leave.

The Booking systems at the Living Library

When we speak about the booking systems, we mean the process/order of how the distribution of readers between the Human Books and reading slots takes place.
This kind of order should be planned and prepared well by the team of Librarians and organizers in advance (in order to avoid mess and confusion during the implementation).

Nowadays different systems are being used by the Library organizers. They may be starting from paper lists and reading tickets, till the electronic bookings online in advance (and readers come already knowing what Human Book(s) they will read at what time and place, before the actual Living Library has taken place).

At the Living Library events within the Expressions in Dialogue Project, partners mainly used a similar concept for booking Human Books. This approach represents a visualized table (on the white board, for instance) of the reading slots and list of the Human Books available for reading.

Human Book/reading 1 slot 2 slot 3 slot slot (time) (time) (time)

“The Book title 1” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names of readers

“The Book title 2” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names of readers

“The Book title 3” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names f readers

“The Book title 4” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names of readers

“The Book title 5” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names of readers

“The Book title 6” (Place/language of the reading session)

Names of readers

Above is the model of such a table.

Depending on the number of readers you need to have per slot per Human Book, you will fill in the reading session. In case the number of readers is too high, you close the booking for that slot and librarians may advise the readers to choose another slot/Book. When the table stays visible for everyone at the event, it works quite well (for the mid-size Living Library events).

It is important to authorize the concrete people (librarians only, for instance), who will be responsible for filling in the Booking board (by no means the readers themselves).
It is very handy as well, to have the Catalogue of Human Books printed out in several copies and a big visualization of the Catalogue at the wall too – it helps readers to do their choice in the most efficient way.

In some cases, for example, as our partners in Hague, We Organisation, did, you may not have time-slots, but have floating slots. Meaning, that the reading session starts, when there is a reader who can access the available book at a given moment of time. The length of the session may as well be determined, or be flexible. In any case, the responsibility of the librarians stays the same, to check for the safety, security and appropriateness of the Living Library process in any of the chosen formats.

Preparation of the Human Books

The Preparation of a Living Library is an essential part of the project and the one that will require more investment and time.

Besides the organisational and logistic aspects seen in previous chapters, the most important elements are related to the preparation of all actors involved in the Living Library, including the librarians, facilitators, dictionaries and obviously the human books.

Before starting any workshop, it is very important that each and everyone knows each other and to make sure that everyone follows the chosen language of the workshop.
So, if there are people that are new, time and space to get to know everybody is necessary.

In case you need translation, there are possibilities to repeat everything in 2/3 languages or provide whispering translation.

When translation is not possible organisers may as well decide to divide in smaller groups that may work in different languages.

During the preparation and the Living Library event you will need a good support of the human dictionnaires. In the practice of the project we had for instance interpretation from english, french and arabic to the local language.

It is important that everyone feel included and it is their choice in which role all people involved would contribute to the Living Library event.

All actors involved in the Living Library event should be attending the workshops. Participants not necessarily should be only Human Books; there can be and, actually, it is recommendable that the other participants who have other roles also join the whole preparation. It is very beneficial that other actors of the LL know all the stories because this training brings important aspects that are relevant for good Living Library organization.

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