With the appearance of E-books and moreover the possibility to download books online for free, there is less and less need to visit any establishment called a ‘library’. But what if the concept of this word and its associations suddenly changed? What if by saying I took a book to read, you meant talking to an actual person and getting to know their way of life? It might sound crazy, but what does not in the 21st century?
A Human Library is the name that stands for a quite successful project lead by groups of active people around the world, who are connected with one motivation – to provide space for people to get to know each other and get rid of the stereotypes, often created by society, media or even family and friends. The organizers aim towards lessening or diminishing prejudices that so many of us have towards the minority and diversity groups as well as people with a “sketchy” job. The coordinators try to spread the message around the world and encourage people to follow their methods. Thus created, the international networking is a non-profit and non-governmental organization that is supported and tied to local organizations. Let’s take a look at the history of this project.
1993, Copenhagen, Denmark. Five young people: Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna, Christoffer Erichsen, Thomas Bertelsen and Ronni Abergel began to involuntarily be aware and worried about the issue of growing violence among the youth. Once they had experienced an armed attack on their mutual friend, they decided to establish a movement under a simple name: “Stop Volden” (eng. Stop the Violence), that would attempt to raise awareness of violence among people. Gaining about 30.000 followers in a couple years, in the year 2000 the director of the Roskilde Festival Mr. Leif Skov asked “Stop the Violence” to prepare some activities that would encourage dialogue and mutual understanding for the youngsters during the festival. And this is how the idea of Human Libraries came into existence. The plan was to have 75 “books” (individuals) and try to involve as many young people as possible, make them talk and share with each other. The risk of staying unnoticed and not appealing was high, but the young group took the chance and… succeeded. Partially because a lot of people were stuck together in a closed space and of course thanks to the great methodology the project was a success and started something amazing and important.
You all wonder, what it is – a “Human Library” and how it works. Well, let me introduce you to the concepts of this project. The principle is: organizers arrange a meeting (usually in public libraries) where everyone is welcome to come, share, and learn something from the experiences of others. “Books” in this library are real people that represent one of the minorities or just a group of people that have prejudices towards them. An individual borrows a “book” for 30-45 minutes and during the reading time, he is free to ask any questions that ever bothered him or are connected with their intolerance and sometimes hatred towards the “labeled” group. Through a peaceful dialogue, individuals can learn firsthand from the source and don’t have to be embarrassed to ask questions that they think are silly. There is no place for violence and insults during the meetings: “Naturally there have been some heated discussions, but as far as I am aware there was never violence or threats or things like that”, “I read many books and also had many readers. I learn new things everyday and some of my prejudices are laid to shame all the time” – tells Ronni Abergel, one of the founders of the organization. Who knows, maybe cops and diplomats are not as scary and corrupted as we think they are, journalists are not just unwanted dirty guests everywhere. Why did the homeless lose their homes? How is it to be disabled or bodily disfigured, what do you have to go through while being an immigrant and what do we actually know about each other? All these and many more questions are being born in your heads every time you see one of these people on the street. Why continue wondering, if there is now a free chance given to us to understand and communicate with each other.
Anyone can be a part of this project; there are no limits, no boundaries. In the 12 years of its existence The Human Library has become a worldwide practice. The list of the organized meetings is long and diverse, so it’s easier to put it this way: “I would say that every weekend around the world there is a Human Library somewhere”, – marks Abergel. Since the meeting is open, all you have to do is to register in the local Human Library and get a Library Card. The Library Card will keep track of “books” that you’ve already had and be your human academic proof. Volunteering librarians will help you to choose the right Living Book in accordance with your prejudices. They also define who is the bestseller Living Book in accordance with the amount of time the “book” was read. Nevertheless bestsellers differ from place to place as every country has its own stigmatized groups as well as they all have certain prejudices in common. If you feel like you have something to tell as a book, you need to fill out an application form and have an interview with a recruiter. Even though everything is for free, sometimes certain Living Books require reimbursement for the costs of the travel (if they need to in order to attend the meeting), but the price of borrowing a “book” will never be high. All the necessary information on participation in the Human Library can be found on either their main Danish webpage or on the local one.
In this world, where we are so diverse and so distant from each other, where due to modern technology we no longer need to communicate verbally as often, it is so easy to forget about interactive dialogue. Every day media helps us to form new stereotypes, but it seems like no one tries hard enough to understand each other. Society gets split into parts and mutual hatred amongst people brings nothing good. The Human Library is an easy way for every one of us to attempt to communicate and comprehend why someone is like he is, not the other way. The Human Library calls for your attention to the devastating miscommunication among people that now occurs everywhere, especially in the countries with high percentages of immigrants. This active and influential organization will eagerly assist and provide you with the unique opportunity to share your experiences and get rid of your prejudices, once you admit that you have some. So I want to finish this article with a great quote by Atticus Finch from the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, that will hopefully give you some food for thought: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
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