Twenty years ago, activists protesting violence in Denmark introduced the idea of a human library in order to discourage prejudice by starting a conversation instead of ushering in more violence. Since then the concept has grown into a global movement and last week, students at a Fresno community college in California have participated in such an event for the first time.
The human library deems us all ‘human books’ with a vast number of stories of our own to tell, and as this event has shown there are many people who are keen on borrowing us for an hour or two in order to learn and maybe even make a new friend.
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English language professor Rebecca Al Haider of Reedley College helped set up the event and has said it is designed to function similarly to a kind of cultural speed dating with the general objective being to expose people to vastly different life experiences. She wishes everyone could know her students individual stories like she does, so she got 30 students to gather and offer their bookish selves up to the bookshelf.
Since last week, 200 readers have passed through the human library and have sat along the banquet table borrowing these human books for a time. Interestingly, some books, such as the Muslim and Sikh participants, have had no breaks and have had a constant stream of curious participants.
Another story of interest that has emerged from the project is a bridge made between two individuals who would probably not have spoken in any other scenario before the human library. Sammy Ashworth, a detective at the Fresno police department sat with an ex-con who explained how his outlook on the feds has changed since being in prison.
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Everyone seems to have something to gain from this project, and the main lesson to be learned? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
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