Books don’t usually tell their own stories, but in this case they will.

Fort Walton Beach Public Library will offer living, breathing human books available for checkout at its upcoming event, “Living Library.” Each living book will tell his or her story to the readers, or event guests, who check them out for a one-on-one conversation.

Echo Cottman, a library assistant, concocted the event as her project for the state's traveling library leadership program, Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute. Living books will include a police officer, former homeless person, immigrant and transgendered person.

“I hope that people take away from this event that we’re all really the same,” Cottman said. “We’re all just people trying to live our lives, trying to do what’s best for our families and that we do connect, even though it doesn’t seem like we do.”

“Living Library” is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 21 at Fort Walton Beach Library, 185 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach. The event is open to the public.

Cottman won’t call herself an activist. But, when she started her project, she knew she wanted it to involve civil discourse. If it impacts one person, it’s worth it, she said.

“I notice there’s been a lot of division, and we’ve kind of isolated ourselves from people who have different ideas or experiences or opinions,” Cottman said. “I was left with the feeling, ‘What can I do?’ 'How can I fix this?’ That became, ‘What can we do to fix this?’”

The idea spawned from a TED Talk, a series of free online speeches.

Cottman’s vision for a living library had been brewing for a while after she watched Elizabeth Lesser’s “Take ‘the other’ to lunch” talk. The speech’s theme was how to agree to disagree, Cottman said.

“The whole premise is you would take someone who you thought you had nothing in common with to lunch,” Cottman said. “And just agree to talk about different things, but you weren’t going to try to convince each other of anything. You weren’t going to try to sell your ideas.”

From there, Cottman refined the idea. When she came across a library in New York that hosted a living library, Cottman realized she could recreate that in Fort Walton Beach.

The most exciting part is how all the participating books are from Okaloosa County, she said.

“It’s not like a speaker coming out,” Cottman said. “These are our neighbors, our friends, our fellow business owners. It strikes really close to home.”

Readers will have the opportunity to check out a book, listen to their story and ask questions for 15 to 20 minutes. If they want more time with a title, readers can ask for a book renewal, Cottman said.

Cottman tried to choose people with experiences society confronts everyday, starting with her own biases, she said.

“Being a black woman, the black lives matter movement — I know how I feel about it and I know how a lot of other African-Americans feel about it, but I wanted to hear what a police officer would say,” Cottman said.

After she planned the project, Cottman presented it to the board members of the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute in Niceville. They were supportive, she said.

Cottman loves the idea, but she doesn’t expect others to feel the same. She hasn’t had any reactions in the middle.

“There’s been ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing. I love it,’ and then there’s crickets,” Cottman said. “That’s OK, because I didn’t go into this thinking a lot of people would understand it because it’s different and it hasn’t been done here.”

Fort Walton Beach Public Library director Tricia Gould supports the project. It's different and controversial, she said.

“I was excited because we are looking for different things,” Gould said. “Part of our mission now, as a library, is to provide unique and different educational opportunities for all ages.”

The library aims to augment the initiatives in local schools and colleges, she said. "Living Library" is something schools might not try, so she thought it was a good fit for the library.

“I hope it opens their minds a little bit, the ones who participate as readers,” Gould said. “I hope that the participants who are books might understand the library as an accessible place for them and their friends and community.”

Cottman will graduate from the 10-month library leadership program hosted in Niceville in July. How to lead instead of manage is the most important concept she has learned, she said.

“As an introvert, I’m like, ‘No, I don’t really want to be in charge of a whole lot of people,’” Cottman said. “But it’s not just about managing people or telling them what to do; it’s more about inspiring them to be their best selves and just to do as much as they can and work with others to do as much as they can as well.”

Gould thinks Cottman has accomplished what the program seeks for its participants.

“Part of the goal of the leadership program is to get young staff members to step outside of their comfort zones,” Gould said. “A lot of the other projects are great, but I think Echo’s is the bravest.”