Human Library: You Can Borrow People Here And Read Them

Asif Khan

Have you ever been to a human library?

A human library is a place where you "borrow" human beings instead of books, and then go on to "read" them, that is, have a conversation with them. It is a place where difficult questions are "expected, appreciated and answered."

Founded in Denmark in 2000, the Human Library movement has now spread to over 70 countries, and human library events have become a fixture in many cities' social calendars, according to a report in Today.com.

At a typical event, "books" and their "readers" gather at a specified place at an appointed hour, the reader takes on "loan" the book they want to read, then the book and the reader sit down together and have a heart-to-heart chat.

Waleed Alqadri, organiser of a recent human library event in Halifax, Canada, described it perfectly to Huffington Post Canada.

"It is like Google, but in a more intimate way."

The Halifax event had the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as its theme, and both Israelis and Palestinians took turns to become "books" for the other to read.

These kinds of personalized interactions go a long way in dismantling misconceptions people have about the "Other," and can be a powerful tool for tackling prejudice at the grassroots level.

The Malaysian chapter of the Human Library has a very interesting flowchart to depict this prejudice-tackling process. This is how it goes, step by step.

Step 1: Register as a reader Step 2: Identify your prejudice and find it in our catalog Step 3: Take out your prejudice and borrow a human book Step 4: Read the human book by having a conversation Step 5: Return the human book, leave your prejudice behind

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The human books come from a variety of backgrounds, covering a wide spectrum of experienced prejudice.

The Human Library has a few shelves of these "books" on its website, where each book is identified by its "title" -- the condition or situation that has taken over the book's life -- and not the participants' original name. So we have books there titled Refugee, Brain Damaged, HIV, Bipolar, Muslim, Deafblind, Polyamorous, Sexually Abused, and so on.

One of the books titled Deafblind - a person both deaf and blind - explains why he chose to become a book.

"I am not angry about my situation. I don't even get angry with cab drivers that refuse to pick me up because of my guide dog. But I think it is important to give people a chance to understand what life looks like through my eyes."
"I am not someone to be afraid of and I fully understand that my look can be overwhelming to some people. But then don't be shy, come on over and ask me. I am not going to bite."

It was not a sudden development. Seven years earlier, in 1993, the friends had started a youth NGO called Stop The Violence after one of their mutual friends was brutally stabbed. This youth NGO laid the groundwork for what was later to become the Human Library.

The first Human Library event - at the 2000 Roskilde Festival - had a record 75 books in attendance and "reflected the principles of inclusion and choice – representing a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, identities and beliefs."

Here's an interview with Ronni Abergel, one of the founders of the the Human Library.

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