At certain libraries around the world, you can check out a book that’s also a real-life person. (Believe me, I know how weird it sounds.)
The idea began in Denmark almost two decades ago as part of an organization called “Stop the Violence.” After experiencing an excessive amount of brutality in their community, the founders of the campaign decided to take action in the best way they knew how: starting a library. But not just any library; a library of people!
The organization initially focused on young people, hoping to create a space for acceptance and empathy by allowing people to “check out” their peers. It emphasized the individuality of every person, promoting compassion and showing that every person deals with adversity in their lives. The idea has continued to grow since then, blossoming into its own organization called “The Human Library.” Human Library events have been held across the entire globe, from Syracuse, New York to Cairo, Egypt, marketing itself as “a place where real people are on loan to readers. A place where difficult answers are expected, appreciated, and answered.” But it doesn’t just set you up on a blind friend-date, it offers up unique stories from varying perspectives as a way to create a more global worldview.
The library works like this: volunteers offer up their stories, assigning their particular story a title that draws in readers like “Refugee,” “Alcoholic,” “Naturist,” “Fat Woman,” and even “Olympic Athlete.” The title of the “book” presents the topic that will be addressed in each story. Each “human book” picks an aspect of their life that they find particularly interesting, offering it to the public as a story they too can explore. Most stories involve a topic that could be considered controversial or triggering, creating a space for conversation and eventually, hopefully, acceptance.
On The Human Library website, you are able to meet a few of the “books.” For example, “Young Single Mother” offers an individual perspective on becoming a parent at a young age and the “unique challenges and unique benefits” that this experience can offer. While teenage motherhood carries a stigma in most parts of the world, this “human book” provides a story that aims to expand our general definition of parenthood.
“Just because you are a young mother it does not mean you cannot build a career and have a normal life. With all the reality-tv typecasting out there, I think it is important to show other examples.”
– Young Mother, Human Book
And this is just one example of a story that might be presented at The Human Library.
Every single person struggles to be understood at some point in their lives, but not everyone has the opportunity to write an autobiography or present a TED talk about their struggles. What better way to express yourself or to understand others better than by creating a condensed tale about your life, and “checking out” other life stories too.
If you want to become a human book or attend a Human Library event, visit http://humanlibrary.org.
All images courtesy of http://bit.ly/1fU2USx