In some countries there are libraries where you can “borrow” a person, instead of a book, to hear the story of their life…
Libraries are one of humanity’s best inventions. The value of a book is enormous … But in 2000, in Denmark, an innovative and brilliant project was launched: a library of human beings, where it is possible to borrow a person for half an hour and listen to their story.
The initiative soon spread to other places, thanks to the organization The Human Library. One of its objectives is to fight prejudice: each person has a “title”, such as “Unemployed”, “Refugee”, “Bipolar”, but listening to their story will help a person realize how wrong it is to “judge a book by its cover”.
The organization is currently active in fifty countries and some libraries, for example in South Korea and Tasmania, are permanent – while others are set up only temporarily.
What is a Human Library?
It’s an innovative, simple and concrete method of promoting dialogue, reducing prejudices, breaking stereotypes and promoting understanding between people of different ages, sexes, lifestyles and cultural backgrounds.
Born in Copenhagen, Human Library was created by a small group of young people in response to a racist aggression suffered by a partner in 1993.
Convinced that understanding was the pre-condition of tolerance, they founded the association “Stop The Violence”, quickly reaching 30,000 adhesions among young Danes.
In preparation for a large-scale intervention during the Roskilde festival in 2000, “Stop The Violence” developed the Human Library method. The initiative was a huge success, and since 2003 it has been recognized by the Council of Europe as good practice, and as such encouraged. Since then it has been exported all over the world with great success.
How does it work?
The living library looks like a real library, with librarians and a catalog of titles to choose from, the difference lies in the fact that to read books you don’t have to leaf through the pages but … talk to each other, because people are books in flesh and blood! These “living books” are “borrowed” for the conversation: each reader chooses his own book.
Who are the living books?
Living books are people who are aware of belonging to minorities subject to stereotypes and prejudices. Eager to unhinge them, they make themselves available to discuss their experiences and values with others.
The titles are deliberately very direct, such as “lesbian girl”, “Islamic woman with veil”, “Albanian emigrant”, precisely to arouse the emotional reactions of potential readers by activating their curiosity, but also stereotypes and prejudices.
The library offers readers the opportunity to get in touch with people they would hardly have had the opportunity to confront. The meeting makes the person in front of us real and unique, and therefore ceases to be perceived as the representative of a category on the basis of a generalization. He or she is recognized in its uniqueness, a person who represents no one except their own experience and history.
How long does it last?
It’s a very limited event in time, usually lasting one or two days; in very rare cases it can reach three or four days. The conversation, i.e. reading a living book, usually lasts about half an hour.
Interviewees and readers describe it as an experience of great impact, which significantly enriched their humanity.
In ancient Egypt, libraries were called “The treasure of soul remedies” because they cured the worst of evils, which, according to the ancient Egyptians, was ignorance.