A recent article titled Human Library immediately grabbed my attention. Being always drawn to anything related to books and libraries I was curious to know what this was. Turns out that this was literally a library where people instead of books are issued out! I was intrigued—What, How and Why?
At a Human Library event, the “books” are people with special experiences; “readers” can choose from various “titles” and then “borrow” them. The procedure is similar to that of a regular library. At the main desk there is a list of “books” available and each “reader” is given a Human Library card by one of the librarians. They then choose a “book”, sometimes with the help of an official matchmaker or library assistant. The reader and the book then move to a space where there are numerous tables and chairs; this is where a safe and respectful conversation begins, and lasts for up to half an hour. The “reader” reads the “book” by asking the “book” questions about their personal situation. The “book”, as well as answering pertinent questions, has the option not to answer and also to ask their own questions.
The most interesting aspect of this library is the choice of “books”. In keeping with its fundamental premise which is ‘to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue’, the Human Library encourages people to challenge their own preconceived notions—to truly get to know, and learn from, someone they might otherwise make a snap judgement about. As the website says “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Most of the stories that the “books” tell have to do with some kind of stereotype or stigmatized topic. For example in the Human Library UK “The titles celebrate diversity and promote equality by deliberately acknowledging differences, lifestyles, ethnicities, faiths, disabilities, abilities and characteristics that may be stigmatised in the hope it might provoke an assumption or even prejudice in readers.”
While new to me, it turns out that the concept of human libraries is not that new. The Human Library is an international organization and movement that first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. It was “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.” Its objective was to address people’s prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet, and to initiate conversations between people of different orientations, backgrounds and religions, by urging participants to listen to each other’s life experiences.
It began with an event which was open eight hours a day for four days straight and featured over fifty different “titles”. More than a thousand readers took advantage leaving books, librarians, organisers and readers stunned at the impact of the Human Library.
Today the movement has become an international phenomenon with “libraries” in more than 70 countries. In India there are Human Libraries in several cities including Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and spreading.
What an amazing and inspiring movement! For me the term ‘audio books’ has acquired a unique human dimension.