The “Human Library” project

Earlier today I was listening to “Q” on CBC radio, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. At the end of the programme, he announced that the London Public Library is going to embark on a new project called the “Human Library”, where library users will be able to “check-out” a human being… Naturally, I was very intrigued, so I went online to learn more. Here is the scoop: members from participating communities can apply to be a living “book” (as, each of us has a unique story to tell). Each book will fit a particular category of person, such as “Male Nurse”, “Jewish Woman”, or “Handicapped Mother” for example. These “books” can then be checked-out by library users to engage in a conversation about their life/situation/experiences…

I found the homepage for the Human Library, and have been reading about its history, implementation, the process of recruiting “books”, etc. The goal of this project is to encourage a dialogue among strangers, for the purpose of dispelling prejudice or perceived “difference” within communities. It is quite a unique approach to breaking down cultural barriers to better understand the choices and life situations of others.

I think it sounds like a promising and innovative service, and I look forward to learning more about its implementation (and usage statistics!!). However, I can imagine there being problems with the recruitment process (because people are being chosen as books based on their perceived “difference” to others). Recruiters are effectively placing people into boxes characterized by any one of their character traits, whether it be sexuality, physical ability, ethnic background, or profession. While I certainly believe in breaking down prejudice, I wonder if this programme will be able to succeed..

To read more about this project at the London Public Library and to apply to be a “book”, visit their site here.


2 thoughts on “The “Human Library” project

  1. Hi, Zack:

    I am one of a small team putting this together at LPL. It is a bit ironic, isn’t it – labelling people so we can encourage “unlabelling”! So far, people have been interested – mostly survival stories about how they got to the other side of a problem, be it drug use, grief, homelessness, etc.

    We have an extra wrinkle in that we’re planning a joint effort: sessions for staff as part of our project to improve services to the socially vulnerable, and the public event on our web site.

    We’ll be happy to share our planning experiences with our colleagues when we’re through!

    Beth Kinchlea
    Manager, Training and Development
    Planning Team for the Human Library

  2. Thanks for your comment, Beth!

    I’m glad to hear that “survival stories” are emerging for this project. I had overlooked the homeless, and previous drug users as potential “books” for the Human Library, and I think this demonstrates the necessity of inviting and generating a discussion about different lived experiences in our communities. The ideas that I had about book candidates were based largely on popular stereotypes about ethnicity, ability, religion, etc.

    I look forward to hearing more about how the project goes. Have you considered writing something for OLA Access, or another trade publication? Please do! 🙂

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