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The Human Library: Bringing Stories to Life

By: Tess Buckley

Imagine if we could have a conversation with our books? I have always loved the library, its endless shelves seemingly capturing years of history, ideas and its endless attempts to inspire the living. While reading a new book we are introduced to characters (real or fake) and we begin to learn about their world and perspective. The Human Library is an international initiative that does just this, but it is unique in the fact that they lend people rather than books. This organization began in Copenhagen in 2000, and aims to address people's prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet. The Human Library is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes through dialogue.

A book with his reader, at Smukfest

The Human Library began as an event, ‘Menneskebiblioteket’ that ran eight hours a day for four days and featured over 50 ‘titles.’ The CEO Ronni Abergel and his brother Dany as well as their colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen, now work at a global scale. “We are embedded in high schools to higher learning, medical training to civic engagement to better our understanding of diversity in order to help create more inclusive and cohesive communities across cultural, religious, social and ethnic differences.” From humble beginnings, this concept is now present in 6 continents and 85 countries - in Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America, and Europe(

Two friends sharing a book at Smukfest.

How does it work?

The Human Library is very similar to any other library. The only difference is that the books are all human volunteers who have opted to speak about their experiences openly to an interested audience and answer any questions they are asked.

Readers learning about self harm at Smukfest.

“A book with us is a person that volunteered to represent a stigmatized group in the community and based on their personal experiences can answer questions from readers to help challenge what is being said/told/understood about a given topic. To help shed light on the facts as you know them. Books are not political or on a mission when with us, but rather able to surrender to the agenda of the reader and allow them control of the conversation.”

Readers learning about modified bodies at Smukfest.

The Human Library creates space for a unique dialogue, where taboo topics can be discussed openly and without condemnation. A place where people who would otherwise never talk find room for conversation. The quote ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is the first thing that comes to mind after learning about the Human Library. All too often we assume what a person may act, think or be like before even giving them a chance. By having conversations, asking questions and creating dialogue, we can unlearn our bias and humanize the once dehumanized. This encourages the willingness to have challenging or ‘uncomfortable’ conversations to help rid discrimination, prevent conflicts and contribute to greater human cohesion across social, religious and ethnic divisions. Thank you to The Human Library for facilitating much needed conversations.

The Human Library Book Awards, 2018.

If you are interested in becoming a book you can fill out an application form here.

If you are interested in becoming a librarian, book recruiter or book volunteer you can fill out an application form here.

If you are interested in looking at the current catalogue of ‘published books’ you can do so here.

Books that have been published and are available for loan.

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