The Human Library: If you want to understand other people, read them like books
PhDs in the queer experience, the elderly or having an eating disorder, the volunteers of this traveling library are read as 'an open book.'
Any study will tell you that people who read tend to be more tolerant and have less prejudice, and also feel better about themselves. However, life encompasses much more than the pages of a book, and soon after you engage in conversation with someone — a sincere, respectful, and deep conversation — you discover what unites us is much more than what separates us.
With the aim of creating a more diverse society where people could read each other 'like an open book' and share experiences, The Human Library Organization (The HLO) was born 20 years ago in Denmark.
More than a collective, a mobile library of human experiences with collections as unusual as being 'obese,' 'Jewish,' 'unemployed,' 'polyamorous,' or having been sexually abused. The magic of these events is that once you access the library you can select the "book" you want to consult, that is to say, the person, and engage in a conversation with him or her either because they have lived through a similar situation to yours or because, so much better, you really want to know how and why someone chooses a path, the obstacles they encounter, the twists and turns — like those of an argument — that life often takes.
"Our survival instinct makes us fear the unknown, react in opposition to the unfamiliar, and in the face of some stereotypes, think 'is this person contagious, is he dangerous? But this instinct acts too quickly, and from The HLO we want to educate it so that we have a much more intelligent response to diversity. What we offer is the opportunity to read your own judgment," the organizers told Yorokobu.
The Human Library is not only in Denmark, there are empathy libraries — "local collections", they call them — in cities like London, Hamburg, New York, Los Angeles or Indiana.
"It's important for us to create events or spaces where our books are safe and comfortable, because the moment you take these people out of their environment you make them vulnerable," said The HLO, adding that the bestseller of the year in Denmark was transgender.
With more than a hundred people involved in the organization of these human reading clubs, which are held annually in universities and give access to 150 different books, in addition to many other events, the Human Library has a clear goal: to treasure more and more human experiences, since "the more books we have, the greater the impact on those societies".
So, you know, if you have the opportunity to visit one of its libraries, dive into the book that you think has less to do with you, and if you ask respectfully, the story that it might tell you is sure to grab you, move you, and, of course, civilize you.