On the Lighter Side: Sweden’s Cutting Edge Library Fare

Want to walk on the wild side? Expand your horizons? Get a little freaky? Just check out the latest offerings from European libraries:

If you find yourself in Malmo, Sweden, and happen to see a homosexual, an imam and a gypsy walk into a bar, it’s not a joke. These are just some of the people who can be borrowed — yes, borrowed — from the local library for a 45-minute chat in a nearby pub as part of an effort to fight discrimination. Ullah Brohed pioneered the “Living Library” project earlier this month. “You sometimes hear people’s prejudices and you realize that they are just uninformed,” she says. And since a library exists to educate, she decided to give Swedish bigots the opportunity to come face to face with the prejudice of their choice. The Malmo library also offers a Danish man (since some Swedes and Danes don’t get along too well) and, to our great embarrassment, even a journalist. “Maybe not all journalists are know-it-all and sensationalist,” Ms. Brohed says. Inspired by this example, a library in the Dutch city of Almelo plans to start its own human lending program next month. “The customers can rent a veiled Muslim woman and finally ask her all the questions they would never dare to ask if they met her on the street,” says the director, Jan Krol. Of course, Mr. Krol must adopt his offerings to local tastes. So apart from the usual suspects — a gay man, a Muslim and a gypsy — there will also be a politician, a hard-drug user, a gay woman and a German (that World War II episode). Given the daily reports of widespread anti-Americanism in Europe, we are surprised that neither Mr. Krol nor Ms. Brohed has a Yank in stock. Should Americans ever become available in libraries in, say, Paris or Berlin, even Jacques Chirac and Gerhard SchrË?der could check them out.

We should be encouraging this in America, particularly the rent-a-politican. The less time they’re in city hall, the state legislature, or the executive mansion, the less chance they have to pass laws or spend our money. And what a potential goldmine for local library systems. We might be able to slash public library budgets if we let them charge a modest fee for this kind of offering. Throw in a barista and you’ll give Starbucks a run for its money. And just think of what we could offer here in the US to spice things up…drag queens, gangsters, Trekkies, reality TV has-beens, pop-megastars-turned-curiousities, NYC cabbies, Branch Davidians…perhaps even the dreaded (but so misunderstood) libertarian. (hat tip: Peter Gordon)