January 29, 2014
Check out a human “book” and challenge your stereotypes at the Human Library
by Julia Fleischaker
If you happen to live in Rochester, New York, this weekend is your chance to check out a human being at the Rochester Public Library. For the third time, the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries and the Rochester Public Library are organizing a day for community members, or “readers,” to check out “books,” storytellers who will speak about their life experiences and interests. “Books” are checked out for 30 minutes at a time.
The first Human Library was organized in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 by a “young and idealistic” youth organization called “Stop the Violence,” and was “designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding:”
Visitors to a Human Library are given the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan”; this latter group being extremely varied in age, sex and cultural background.
The Human Library enables groups to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner. It is a concrete, easily transferable and affordable way of promoting tolerance and understanding.
All books tell a story, and these human “books” are no different. According to the University of Rochester website, confirmed “books” for this weekend’s event include “a woman who grew up in South Africa under apartheid; a former teacher who underwent a gender transition; and a Vietnam War veteran who said ‘no’ when too much was asked of his sense of morality.”
Since the first Human Library in Copenhagen, events have spread all over the world. The Lismore City Library in Australia now has regular “Lismore’s Living Library” days on their schedule, and the Human Library Organization has partnered with the Hope Institute in South Korea for two major events next month. In addition to international events in Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Italy, and the UK, upcoming human libraries are scheduled for San Diego, Vermont, Arizona, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Texas. See if there’s one planned near you at the worldwide list of events here.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.