Invite your community to begin the conversation:
- What does it mean to be vegetarian?
- What does it mean to be a refugee?
- What does it mean to be a global citizen?
- What does it mean to be homeless?
- What does it mean to be a New Zealander?
- What does it mean to be a Buddhist?
Allow your community an opportunity to reflect on what these words mean to them. Invite people who identify with the above statements to share their experience and to respond to people’s perceptions of what it means to be these things.
Watching the second series of Go back to where you came from (an Australian TV show about the refugee experience) made me reflect that it may seem straightforward to emphatically state opinions about situations which we have no deep understanding. Yet, when faced with the reality of people’s experiences, it is harder to reconcile our previously stated beliefs.
This TV series is deliberately provocative. It could be a starting point to engage with your community about their attitudes to refugees, in particular, highlighting the many complex reasons which may influence a refugee’s decision to illegally enter another country.
There is also no definitive way “to be” homeless. It means different things to different people, and the understanding of the word “homeless” can be influenced by culture and language.
There are numerous TV shows, books, films, TED talks, podcasts that attempt to dispel the myth and misunderstanding of situations such as urban homelessness, to show that, underneath we’re all human, and that homelessness isn’t a situation that occurs in the same way for everyone.
The “borrow-a-person” idea has been around for over a decade, and LIANZA has information about how to involve people as “non-traditional information resources”.
Could undertaking a programme like this within your library be a way to invite people into conversations with others whom they might never otherwise encounter? Could it be a way to develop an openness and deeper understanding about other members of your community?
In a secondary school environment, librarians may work alongside career advisors to develop a collection set of “living resources” (aka real people!) who are open to sharing their career experiences of what it means “to be” in a particular job. It might also be a useful way to demonstrate to young people that they can be interested in many seemingly unrelated topics and develop a career path that involves many of their interests.
What does it mean to be intrigued by both art history and chemistry? It could mean that your career as an art restorer has begun.
What does it mean to be fascinated by both photography and biology? It could mean that your career as a medical imaging specialist has begun.
You could also show that being interested in science, but fainting at the sight of blood, doesn’t preclude someone from being involved in the medical profession, they just may have to expand their thinking beyond training as a surgeon or a phlebotomist.
The photo-essay, This is what a Librarian looks like, by Kyle Cassidy demonstrates that although we may share the same job title, not only do we do different things within that job title, we clearly don’t all look the same.
Allowing others to share their experiences enables us all to gain an insight and understanding to lives that are different to our own. It may be the beginning of a different model of community conversations.