Char Jeggle, of Shadyside, second from the left, talks about the essence of man, good vs. evil, during a conversation salon at Upper St. Clair Public Library. Photo by Jasmine Goldband/Tribune-Review
By Michael Jones
For the Tribune-Review
March 11, 2010
Even as human contact migrates to the Web, the Allegheny County Library Association is getting people together to talk -- face to face.
Conversation salons, where philosophical and newsworthy topics are broached and everyone has a say, have become a hit locally and across the country in the age of Facebook.
"We're all on computers now, and we don't have as much personal involvement with each other," said Lee Boyd, a salon organizer at Upper St. Clair Library. "I think we need more of that. It's nice to meet people in the community with wisdom on issues."
Conversation salons date back hundreds of years ago to The Enlightenment, when people discussed philosophy and new scientific discoveries. They first returned to Western Pennsylvania about nine years ago as a way to get retirees interacting on a regular basis.
Now, 10 area libraries hold monthly salons with attendance ranging from a few to up to 20 people.
"We didn't have to work at all to drag people in or entice them," said Norm Wien, who helped promote the early salons. "There's this subset of people who like to converse in a polite and respectful way, and it caught on right away."
A group of 17 people met last week in the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, with the chairs positioned in a circle so all could be included.
"If it gets bigger than that, they don't get their dibs in," Wien said. "If it gets too small, then you lack the diversity of the viewpoint."
Most people in this particular group are from Mt. Lebanon, but a few are from other South Hills communities. Joe Meltzer, the group's facilitator -- or referee -- got the conversation started.
"The first topic is immigration," Meltzer said before throwing his arms up in the air. "Go!"
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