by Kristin Frauenhoffer
„I am a member of a fast-dying group“, says 81-year old Yoka. That is one reason why she wants to share her story. She is a Holocaust survivor and was November´s book of the month at the Human Library. Yoka is a human “book” at the most unusual and most fascinating library worldwide: the Human Library.
There you can borrow books, just like at any other library. However, the difference is that the “books” are living people with personal stories and experiences from their own life. The aim is to create a safe space for people to meet, talk about taboos, dissolve prejudices. And discover that we are all not that different.
Face our prejudices – within a safe space
The Human Library was developed by journalist and social entrepreneur Ronni Abergel and his colleagues from the Danish organization “Stop Volden” (Stop the Violence). Is was part of the organization’s activities for the popular Roskilde-Festival in the year 2000. The idea was to invite people who have all faced stigma, discrimination or prejudices because of their identity, lifestyle, occupation, social status, religious belief, sexuality, ethnic origin or something similar. And then bring them together with other people in order to start a genuine discussion where all questions can be asked. „Everyone has prejudices, but not everyone has the opportunity to find out whether what we believe about other people is true, within a safe space. That is the core of what the Human Library offers“, says Ronni Abergel.
Homeless, refugee, bisexual – ask them all the questions, especially the taboo
So the Human Library not only gives marginalized groups – their „books“ – a platform to share their experiences. At the same time creates opportunities for all the others. First to discover that they have prejudices and then – hopefully – dissolve them. „I feel really ashamed that I judged these people before. I am really sorry about it“, says one visitor of an event at the Human Library.
Whereas in our daily lives, we usually never get the chance to talk openly to someone from a marginalized group. The Human Library offers a safe space for all the questions. In doing so, it is not only permitted to discuss taboos, but explicitly encouraged. „It is a place, where the reader can sit down with a complete stranger, who are volunteering to answer questions about being homeless, a refugee, bisexual, Muslim, handicapped, HIV+, or a police officer“, explains CEO Ronni Abergel. In that way the organization strives to create empathy, respect and understanding for the diversity in society.
Human Library events can be found in different settings, even online
The readers can meet „the books“ at the Human Library’s different events, which are being held at public libraries, companies and educational institutions such as primary schools, high schools and universities, as well as conferences and festivals. Usually one conversation – „one loan“ – takes around 20 to 30 minutes. Sometimes group readings are organized. But the events vary from situation to situation, using different formats, which have been developed over the last 21 years. The organization also offers online Reader’s Corners where one can find for example Holocaust survivor Yoka. As she lives partly in the Netherlands and partly in California, this format suits her the best. At the moment she is one of the most active books in the virtual book depot, often published several times a week.
Present in over 85 countries worldwide
The bookshelf is constantly being updated and expanded with new titles, that means new volunteers who want to share their experiences. Therefore, the reader can’t expect to find one specific title at any given event, nor can the reader meet the same title at different events. However, the reader can always expect the opportunity to meet a broad spectrum of books, spanning across a myriad of prejudice. The organization has book depots all over the world: in India, Australia, the UK and US to name a few and is present in more than 85 countries across the globe. In Copenhagen, the Human Library has a permanent Library and Reading Garden created for private conversations with human books. Visiting the Reading Garden is free of charge for everyone.
Human Library as learning platform for the civil society
In Denmark, the Human Library is regulary used in different areas of civil society as a learning platform. It is part of the education of, for instance, new social workers at the Institute of Social Work in Copenhagen. At a corporate level it’s about creating an inclusive work environment, and increasing the employees ability to benefit from diversity. Some of the biggest companies in the world collaborate with the Human Library. This includes companies like Merck, Heineken, Tesco, Microsoft, Masco, UGI, Zurich Insurance and Lego. The Human Library is currently developing an app to create a digital learning platform.
„It is not about us books, it´s about readers confronting their own ideas.“
Yoka is happy with her experience at the Human Library. She thinks that it offers a unique environment to engage with people. „It is not about us books, it´s about readers confronting their own ideas. They try their ideas out on us with their particular questions, and our answers might help qualify their opinions”, she says. This is what is meant by the Human Library´s motto: Unjudge someone.
To find out more about the activities of the Human Library visit their website here.
If you are interested in being published as a human book click here.
Many thanks to Uta Nabert, who made us aware of this so valuable project!
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