Number of participants involved: 170 attended the launch; 15 ‘living books’ available at each session and corresponding readers.
Target Group: General public within the council’s region.
Project Description: Lismore’s Living Library is Australia’s first Living Library. The Living Library is like a normal library, however, the books in the living library are people representing groups frequently confronted with prejudices and stereotypes and who are often victims of discrimination or social exclusion. Lismore’s Living Library is based on the successful European model, which began in Denmark in 2000 and has spread to libraries and festivals across Europe. The Living Library is a community-based initiative that aims to bring people together through one-to-one conversation and interaction and thereby encourage understanding, challenge negative stereotypes, and reduce prejudice. Lismore’s Living Library aims to use the simple yet powerful strategy of Living Library to build social cohesion. The visitors to Lismore’s Living Library are ordinary community members who have the opportunity to ‘borrow’ a ‘living book’ for an informal, half-hour conversation. The Library creates a safe environment where people who would not normally meet, can engage in constructive dialogue. When diverse members of the community are brought together in this way, understanding is increased and social cohesion is built.
On the day of the launch, over thirty living books were available in the catalogue. They represented a range of groups in Lismore including: multi-faith communities (Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish), people with disability (intellectual, physical, mental health, visual impairment), the multicultural community (Italian, German, Sudanese refugees, Filipino), Aboriginal people (Bundjalung Elder, community member, young people), young people, older people, gay men and lesbians, a farmer, an environmentalist, police officers, and a man living with HIV/AIDS.
Successes and challenges: Initially meant as a one-off event, one hundred and seventy people visited the Living Library launch between opening hours of 10am and 3pm. 80 people borrowed books and around 120 borrowings occurred. Following the success of the launch, Lismore’s Living Library has become a monthly occurrence each month beginning December 2006. Feedback from participants have been overwhelmingly positive. 37 libraries and other organisations from around Australia have contacted the Lismore City Council and Lismore City Library seeking information about Lismore’s Living Library
What evaluation (if any) was conducted: To assess how successful the Living Library has been, an evaluation form was provided to Books and Readers during the launch. 78% of Books and 60% of Readers completed the surveys and responses were very positive. The surveys revealed that the sessions helped challenge and breakdown assumptions and stereotypes. It was overwhelmingly clear both parties felt that, through talking, they had gained an awareness of their mutual responsibility to social cohesion and community belonging. The Living Library Committee intends to have Southern Cross University conduct an independent evaluation of the project after the completion of a one year period.
Contact details: Joanna Stobinski, Canterbury City Council
PO Box 77 Campsie NSW 2194
Ph 02 9789 9472
Funded by: Department of Immigration, Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs under Living in Harmony Strategy, 2003
Time period of the initiative: October 2003- February 2005
Number of participants involved: Over 600 people (275 in tours of places of worship, 200 in school forums, over 100 in school arts competition & over 30 representatives of religious organisations)
Target Group: Leaders of local religious organisations, general public and high school students
Project/Initiative Description: The Canterbury Inter-faith Harmony Project involved a cross-section of the diverse religious and faith groups in Canterbury discussing issues of inter-faith to strengthen community relations. A group of over 19 religious organisations with over 30 representatives were brought together to promote personal contact and information exchange. The group met on a bi-monthly basis to listen to guest speakers on inter-faith relations, to engage in discourse on religious harmony and develop appropriate strategies. It developed a Vision Statement for dissemination through local and ethnic media; and to over 60 religious organisations in our City.
Other highlights of the project have included extremely popular and successful tours of places of worship for the general public and local schools (275 participants), inter-faith discussion groups in local high schools (200 participants), good news inter-faith and human- interest stories submitted through the website and a community harmony poster competition - all of which have received very positive coverage from regional media.
These strategies were designed to encourage respect for people of diverse faiths by the community at large and the right to free religious expression of all residents.
In the latter part of the campaign, local high schools were invited to host discussion groups or forums on religious diversity and inter-faith harmony with the help from Council. As a result, a morning event called ‘Harmony Experience’ was arranged on 23 November 2004 at St Ursula’s Catholic College where students from Malek Fahed Islamic High School in Greenacre joined St Ursula’s community for shared prayer, small group discussions, a netball game, a morning tea and a final large forum at the conclusion of the program. This activity was part of the Canterbury Inter-Faith Harmony Project and the Religious Education Program for Year 9 students, Faithful to God, Faithful to People, which acknowledges the importance of inter-faith dialogue.
Another school strategy was to hold a poster competition among local high schools around the themes of religious diversity, harmony, respect, partnership and peace. The winning entry was developed into a poster for distribution to Council facilities and services, community organisations, schools and religious sites.
Successes & challenges: The success of the project surpassed everybody’s expectations with waiting lists developed for future tours, communities continuing to arrange inter-faith activities and improved general awareness locally evident. Over 200 students and 7 teachers from both schools took part in the experience. Feedback from the students and parents with whom they shared their perceptions of the day, was highly positive and the forum proved to be both educational and enjoyable.
As with any project which involves engaging busy community leaders, securing their commitment can be difficult. On this occasion it is obvious that local commitment was strong enough to ensure excellent participation levels throughout the range of project initiatives. The Steering Committee which guided the project provided of its time willingly and this was vital to the success of the project. In recognition of the project’s success, a case study about this initiative was incorporated in the Community Relations Report 2004 of the Community Relations Commission of NSW.
The project was also showcased during a workshop presentation at an International Conference ‘Transformations’, convened by Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils (FECCA) and the Australian National University. It became evident during the inter-faith stream of this Conference that this project was very creative and one of the few such projects in Australia.
What evaluation (if any) was conducted: The final meeting of religious leaders focused on the evaluation of the activities undertaken and on future directions. The group requested of Council to be kept informed of any new inter-faith activities and were happy to come together for special gatherings hosted by the Mayor from time to time.
During each tour of places of worship and at the inter-faith forum at St Ursula’s Catholic College evaluation forms were distributed to all the participants.