A Living Library was conceived and founded by Bonnie Ora Sherk, Artist, Landscape Architect, and Educator, and first used as a term in March, 1981, as the name for an environment with integrated community programs, based on the Master Plan she developed for Bryant Park in New York City, adjacent to, and incorporating, the Main Research Branch of the New York Public Library. Bryant Park is located between 40th and 42nd Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the heart of New York City, with the United Nations to the East.
This Plan called for bringing the Library outside with Gardens Of Knowledge arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System in the perimeter areas of the Park and International Gardens in the center of the Park; all to be linked via technology to the Library and Branch Living Library & Think Parks around the world.
Each themed, Garden of Knowledge was to be integrated with a variety of plants and related artworks, and educational / cultural programs and linked to the Library, schools, international consulates, the UN, and other organizations and resources in the area – regionally, nationally, and internationally. The later, very successful international fashion shows held in Bryant Park each year for Fashion Week, were part of her original conception, conceived as a way to generate revenue and interest in A Living Library, or, A.L.L., for short.
Local & Global Branch Living Library & Think Parks
The goal was then, and still is now, to create Branch Living Library & Think Parks locally and globally, with the intent of integrating local resources in each locale, and using them more systemically, sustainably, and effectively. And, then sharing at a local and global level, the commonalities and diversities of each place – ecological, built, and multicultural.
The vision is that A Living Library will bring greater understanding amongst individuals and groups, and lead us closer to world peace and prosperity for all. When we learn all that we can about our local place, its people and resources, from that, we can extrapolate, and learn about the world.
Promotion of diversity, commonalities, understanding, and sharing, is integral to A LIVING LIBRARY services, environments, and programs.
A.L.L. has continued to grow and evolve, since 1981, and has become a powerful framework, strategy, and methodology for ecological community and economic development, hands-on, interdisciplinary, multicultural and ecological education and transformation.
A Living Library Framework
A Living Library Framework, Strategy, and Methodology is site and culturally sensitive for each site, and is transferable to areas and environments in the United States and abroad.
Multiple other Master Plans for Branch Living Library & Think Parks have emerged since 1981 and were proposed, publicized, and published, including sites for Civic Centers, Schools, Libraries, Parks, and other open spaces and institutions – locally and globally. A Living Library plans, writings, and interviews have also been published and exhibited in numerous art, media, and education venues including art galleries, museums, and print, radio, and television.
A LIVING LIBRARY has ongoing and continuous Branch Living Library & Think Park sites in New York and San Francisco. Note, for example, the following 2009 press release about a summer program running on Roosevelt Island in New York City through August of that year:
“The Roosevelt Island Living Library Summer Program hosted New York Senator Jose Serrano and Assemblyman Micah Kellner and their staff at PS/IS 217 on Wednesday, July 29. Participating was a lively group of community members and children who wanted to show the officials the accomplishments of their Living Library Eco-Transformation on Roosevelt Island funded by RIOC’s Public Purpose Fund.
The beautiful Garden(s) and newly created Compost Bins (see below), further developed this summer by participants with Living Library Instructors, Veronica Forero and Nate Kendall, were viewed, discussed, and enjoyed – even in the rain.
On that very rainy day of our gathering, children painted beautiful images of flowers and vegetables, patients from Coler-Goldwater Hospital took photographs of the event, parents and other community representatives spoke of their support of the program, and all drank peppermint tea from the Garden.
Founder and Director of Life Frames, Inc. and A Living Library, Bonnie Ora Sherk, gave an overview of the Roosevelt Island Living Library & Think Park and discussed the great opportunities that we all have when we work together and incorporate the rich resources present on Roosevelt Island. Participating and also speaking at the meeting were Matthew Katz from RIRA, Ronald Becker, Director of Therapeutic Recreation from Coler-Goldwater and other staff, Lydia Tang from the PTA, Gloria Gonsalves, a parent of two participants, Nate Kendall, a RI Living LIbrary instructor and Science Teacher from PS/IS 217, numerous patients from Coler Hospital and multiple children of diverse ages from the program. Senator Serrano and Assemblyman Kellner responded and said that their offices will try and help with funding and contacts.
Discussion included: continued development of ecological environments on Roosevelt Island, Green Skills Job Training for youth and adults, the interdisciplinary NY & NYC standards-based, hands-on, Living Library Curricula, importance and value that A Living Library promotes for all sectors of community to work together, and our goal to link students and adults with Branch Living Library & Think Parks in diverse communities- locally and globally. Also discussed were future Living Library Learning Zones near the school including creation of an Orchard, area for New York Native Trees and Understory, as well as Gardens for Organic Vegetables and Flowers and opportunities for eco-landscape development at Coler-Goldwater Hospital.
The Roosevelt Island Living Library Summer Program takes place on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2-5:30 at PS/IS 217, is open to children, youth, and adults, and runs until August 31. People from Roosevelt Island can still participate: please see attached registration form. ALL are welcome!
Honors and Awards of A Living Library
There are numerous news articles about A LIVING LIBRARY as well as coverage of A.L.L. in other forms of media. All of these underscore the longstanding involvement of A LIVING LIBRARY in diverse communities, as well as the prestige attached to the name and program. Of significant interest is the nomination of A Living Library and Life Frames, Inc. for the Computerworld Smithsonian Award by Steve Jobs in 2000. The primary source material submitted on A Living Library and Life Frames, Inc. is now part of the Smithsonian Museum’s permanent collection. Additionally, A Living Library was nominated in 2004 to be part of the United Nations Habitat Best Practices Data Base In Improving The Local Environment and is on the United Nations Habitat Website.
Video – Evolution of Life Frames: Bonnie Ora Sherk’s Vision and Selected Accomplishments © 2002