Thursday, November 3, 2005

Can I Borrow a Person?

I just read an Ananova report about a public library in Almelo, Holland that, not content with lending out books, CDs, and DVDs, is now also lending out people.
A library in Holland is lending out people, as well as books, in a new initiative aimed at challenging stereotypes.

People can borrow gay people, gipsies and Muslims for an hour and talk to them about their lives, [. . .]
I have been for many years, and still am, a member of a few libraries like the Mumbai University Library and British Council Library (BCL) in Mumbai. Going by my experiences with these two venerable institutions in Mumbai, I wonder how this "People loaning" system is supposed to work (I am assuming that the report is true).
  • Like the BCL, would library members willing to avail of the "new facilities," have to pay extra and upgrade now to a "Books, CD, DVD, and People" membership?
  • Will the "New Additions" section now display people too?
  • Are these new additions to the library going to be indexed, bar coded and color-tagged?
  • Can library members quickly browse through a few people before borrowing one?
  • Can I, like in the Mumbai University Library and in the BCL, fill a "demand slip" for a particular person that I particularly want to look up?
  • When a person is loaned, will the library staff stamp the return time on the person?
  • What kind of penalties and fines will any defaulters attract for not returning the borrowed people on time?
  • Like in most libraries and with books, is there a "reference only" section -- people who cannot be taken out of the library?.
  • The British Council Library stamps some of its books with the message, "Please check all the pages on return." Some books have the message, "A serious view will be taken if this book is mutilated." Is the public library in Almelo thinking of stamping their loanable people with similar messages?
  • Will Gays be loaned to other Gays?
  • Is their a separate "Children's Section?" And if there is a Children's Section, will Michael Jackson be ever allowed to offer himself to be loaned?
  • When will some of these people be taken off the shelves and put in the "withdrawn" section?
  • Can library members buy the "withdrawn people" at reduced rates?
(I should stop now before I let my imagination run wild.)

I also wonder, how it'll work with the people who are going to be borrowed? Won't they get bored and irritated answering more or less the same questions over and over again? Imagine such a library in India. A South-Indian: "No, no, Tamilians are different from Mallus who are different from Kannadigas. Yes, we have more dishes than Idli-smabhar. Not all mallus are communists." A Sikh: "We eat more than sarson da Saag and makke ke roti. No, no, not everyone of us speaks like Navjot Singh Siddhu." A Maharashtrian: "You heard me right, I actually hate Bal Thackeray. And no, "Chaila" and "tujya aaila" are not mandatory in every sentence. "

All said and done, most stereotypes and biases are born out of a lack of knowledge and awareness. A person to person contact of even an hour goes in a long way (compared to a book or anything else for that matter) in reducing prejudices.

I am just not sure if the Almelo library's interesting experiment is the right way to go about it.

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