I have always been interested in hearing different people’s life stories. When I was a kid, I would go and talk to a stranger on the street, at the store, or while waiting in line to buy a bag of sweets. Over time, I have realized as we grow, we become more reserved and less likely to have a conversation with a stranger on the street. Simple conversations are sometimes all that is needed to challenge stereotypes and develop a better understanding of people. At a place such as Copenhagen’s Human Library, this is exactly what happens.
Most libraries offer books that can be borrowed, but the Human Library allows visitors to borrow a person to interact with and hear their unique story. The Human Library creates a safe framework for personal conversations that can help to challenge prejudice, prevent conflicts, and contribute to greater human solidarity across social, religious, and ethnic divisions.
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What is the Human Library and how does it work?
The Copenhagen Human Library, or “Menneskebiblioteket” in Danish, was started back in 2000 by Ronni Abergel and his brother Dany and colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen. Originally, the event was open eight hours a day for four days straight and it provided a broad selection of Human Books that could be selected to have a conversation. Today the Human Library hosts or is involved in activities in more than 80 countries. Additionally, they work with some of the larger brands in the world, helping them with their diversity and inclusion efforts. The Human Library hosts events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations that normally they would not have. Every human book represents a group in our society that is often subjected to stigmatization or discrimination because of their lifestyle, belief, disability, social status, etc. So, the reader can potentially have a conversation with an individual with the title of “Alcoholic”, “Bipolar”, “Muslim”, “Autist”, etc., and hear their stories. This concept has a widely known tagline “unjudge someone.”
Why the experience at the Human Library is so fulfilling
The experience that readers take away from the Human Library often improves their lives. Regardless of which Human Book the reader selects, it broadens his or her perspective on society and develops empathy. Some readers’ have described how “reading” has changed their perception of society. Based on other reviews, readers have claimed to have become a better version of themselves with more kindness, empathy, etc. The Human Library makes a huge impact on every participant which helps improve society by encouraging and teaching acceptance, inclusion, and diversity.
Like many public libraries, the Human Library also selects A Book of The Month, where people are featured as the Human Books. Last month’s favourite was called Daniel: Wheelchair User. This Human Book is a real source of inspiration. As stated by Daniel, “My wheelchair is a symbol of freedom, not of limitation. My condition is the limitation, but my wheelchair helps me break the boundaries of the condition”.
A major goal of The Human Library Organization is to help people “unjugde someone”, and it is a goal they are steadily achieving. Next to working with individuals, The Human Library also participates in meaningful projects, such as a new program developed in partnership with the University of Glasgow’s School of Medicine. In this project over 300 future doctors will become readers of the Human Book, which will benefit not only students but also their future patients and colleagues. “Medical students need to have a wide knowledge base that can be learnt from traditional books, but to be truly effective and compassionate doctors they need to develop more nuanced skills – communication, empathy, listening, reflection – and what better way to achieve that, than through interactions, and connections, with people and their lived experience – the human books,” says Dr. Lynsay Crawford, University Lecturer.
The Human Library is an empowering concept, which encourages us to “unjudge someone” and learn from people that have a different story than us. Similarly, the public library is a safe space to learn and have conversations. Libraries deliver access to information and resources for individuals and families of a community. This unique setup brings many different “stories” together under one roof, which is powerful as demonstrated by the Human Library initiative. Libraries are an important component of strong and safe communities, so, support your local library so it can continue supporting you and your community!