What Kinds of Books Can You Read at a “Human Library”?

Human Libraries (such as this event at the University of Essex in the UK) tackle prejudice by allowing visitors to “borrow” a person who will speak about their experiences.
Human Libraries (such as this event at the University of Essex in the UK) tackle prejudice by allowing visitors to “borrow” a person who will speak about their experiences.

You may not be able to borrow the latest bestsellers from a Human Library, but you can borrow something even better – people who are open books themselves. These living "books" are volunteers who are willing to share their own life experiences, which often involve discrimination or social exclusion, with "borrowers" who would otherwise never hear their stories or think about people from these walks of life.

The hope is that by listening and asking questions, the visitors will gain insight and begin to challenge their own long-held beliefs and prejudices, and learn about how others navigate the world. The "titles" that the human books give themselves cover everything from "Homeless" to "Polyamorous" to "Refugee" to "PTSD" to "Young Mother."

"Ideally, we wanted people to talk about issues that they normally would not talk about, or potentially don’t like to talk about, but that we need to talk about," says founder Ronni Abergel. Started in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000, the Human Library has since expanded to more than 80 countries. Although there are some permanent Human Libraries, they usually take the form of events at universities and corporate gatherings, rather than as actual brick-and-mortar establishments.

Facing racism and discrimination:

  • Regardless of income or education, black women in America are up to four times more likely to suffer a pregnancy-related death than white women.

  • In the United Kingdom, black drivers are stopped by police six times more often than white drivers; Asian drivers are stopped twice as often.

  • According to one U.S. survey, nearly 16% of students have experienced some form of bullying or harassment based on their race or ethnicity.

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    • Human Libraries (such as this event at the University of Essex in the UK) tackle prejudice by allowing visitors to “borrow” a person who will speak about their experiences.
      Human Libraries (such as this event at the University of Essex in the UK) tackle prejudice by allowing visitors to “borrow” a person who will speak about their experiences.