In an era where face-to-face communication is becoming harder to come by, there is a movement against the grain from Denmark. This is a library, where you can consult a “book” on a certain topic for an allotted period of time. The only difference is that the “book” is actually a person. A man or a woman you can borrow to chat with.
Known as “The Human Library” (menneskebiblioteket, in Danish) was created in Copenhagen by Ronni Abergel in 2000 with the aim of “publishing people as open books” so that others can ask questions about their lives and experiences, and better understand their day-to-day problems. In other words, giving people from all over the world and with different backgrounds the opportunity to sit down and chat. The idea has been exported to more than 70 countries since then.
In 2006, a Princeton University study concluded that humans create their first impressions of someone in the blink of an eye—in a tenth of a second, to be precise. And the human library wants, in this sense, to create a feeling of closeness and that people can break their prejudices while they stop to turn “the pages” of lives from other persons.
In fact, each “book” on their shelves represents minorities in our society who have often been subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination due to their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin, etc. The types of books you can borrow range from someone who is transgender, deaf, blind, obese, or homeless to someone with autism or even refugees.
On its website, the library makes it clear that it acts as a safe space for dialogue and therefore people are encouraged to ask anything that comes to mind: “We are looking for people who are homeless, unemployed, depressed, with mental health issues, disabilities, who could help educate us.” Most “books” present problems such as alcoholism, autism, bipolarity, malformities in their bodies, or have suffered tragedies, such as sexual abuse, racism or wars.
How does it work?
You can select a book (ie a person) and borrow it during thirty minutes. During this time, you can listen to her story and ask her all kinds of questions. No question is off limits, though it is possible that the books themselves do not want to answer them. And, above all, they emphasize security: “We want the book to return on time, we need it in the same conditions, you cannot take it home. They are simple things,” explained its creator.
Also, if people check out a book, they won’t need a translator because a librarian makes sure to match readers with someone whose language they can understand.
On the other hand, as the creators explain in this article, the matchmaking method used is made to bring together very different people and results in real cases such as a transgender woman meeting a conservative Christian woman who thinks she is living in sin. . Or a climate change activist meeting someone who thinks global warming is a hoax.
“In my daily life, it can be difficult to connect with people,” said a 37-year-old man in this other report. He explained that he goes to the library so that people become aware that behind his conditions, he is a person. In this case, he has up to 3 titles in your human catalog, including one called ‘Special Handicap’. Another woman, labeled “Eating Disorder,” explains dramatic details of how she dropped from 400 pounds to 220 pounds.
The project also has many practical applications. A partnership with the University of Glasgow invites 300 medical students to become ‘readers’ to learn the skills needed as future doctors. Dr. Lynsay Crawford explained in this Forbes article that they want to run the program every year so that all Glasgow graduates learn “non-judgmental.”
He explains: “Medical students must have a broad knowledge base that can be learned from traditional books, but to be truly effective and compassionate physicians, they must develop skills more nuanced (communication, empathy, listening, reflection) and what better way to achieve this than through interactions and connections with people and their lived experience: human books”.
Images: Human Library
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