By David Rennie in Brussels
August 27, 2005
A public library in the Netherlands has been swamped with queries after unveiling plans to "lend out" living people, including homosexuals, drug addicts, asylum seekers, Gypsies and the physically handicapped.
The volunteers will be borrowed by users of the library, in Almelo, who can take them to a cafeteria, and ask them any questions they like for up to an hour, in a scheme designed to break down barriers and combat prejudice.
The library's director, Jan Krol, said he had been flooded with requests after his project was reported in the media.
Almelo, a prosperous town of 72,000 people in the Twente region of east Holland, is not known as a hotbed of Amsterdam-style liberalism.
The people-lending scheme was conceived as a local project, designed to encourage the solid burghers of Almelo to make contact with members of ethnic minorities and other marginalised members of society. But it has caught the imagination of the press.
"It has caused a lot of interest, a lot of people have already called with questions like: 'Do I need a library card?"' Mr Krol said.
People borrowers will not need a card, he said - and there will be no fines for returning people late.
"Most meetings will last 45 minutes, we imagine. You can ask anything you like, but racist or strong language is not allowed."
Mr Krol, who said he was inspired by a similar scheme in Sweden, hopes to begin the project next month.
"I've got several gay men, a couple of lesbian women, a couple of Islamic volunteers. I've got a physically handicapped woman, and a woman who has been living on social security benefits for many years in real poverty."
Mr Krol said he was especially keen to find members of the Netherlands' small Roma population after a recent attack on two Gypsy families.
Mr Krol said he had not cleared the scheme with his municipal bosses.
"Oh, I never ask the council before I do anything," he said. "And there are no costs at all, only two cups of coffee."
What next? Gypsies in a Zoo, so we can be studied better?
I won't even say anything about the "Netherland's small Roma community" as the author says... the majority of Gypsies in the Netherlands are NOT Roma but Sinti and the Roma community is indeed very small...