April 27, 2021

Plymouth’s RESPECT festival will see people become ‘books’ for Human Library


Human ‘books’: beating stigma (Image: mohamed Hassan from Pixabay)

They say everyone has a book inside them—now a Devon arts festival is looking for people to become a “book” in partnership with the Human Library project.

Plymouth’s RESPECT Festival started in 1998 and is run by the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council. It “showcases Plymouth’s diversity and enables different communities to come together and promote the intrinsic message of respect and equality for all.” In normal times, the one-day event features a parade, live music, food and information stands. Its reach also extends to work with 200 partners in local schools using carnival and parade workshops to encourage diversity awareness. The festival was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but is due to take place virtually this year on June 5.

A report by Peter Chapman in the Plymouth Herald notes that this year this festival is linking up with the Human Library project, seeking “people who want to counter unhelpful stereotypes and have experienced prejudice or disadvantage” to volunteer as human books.

The Human Library project, founded in Copenhagen in 2000, aims to encourage “unjudgement” of others by presenting people’s lives as an open dialogue which anyone can participate in. Each “book” is in fact a real person willing to share their experiences. Books listed include “Bipolar,” “Body Mod Extreme,” “Refugee,” “Soldier (PTSD),” and “Young Mother.” According to HL’s website it aims to provide “a safe framework for personal conversations that can help to challenge prejudice, get aim to help rid discrimination, prevent conflicts and contribute to greater human cohesion across social, religious and ethnic divisions.”

Plymouth’s Human Library is run by Carmel Lawless, one of the project’s former ‘books’, and Human Library UK co-ordinator Katy Jon Went. Speaking to the Herald, Carmel explains the concept to potential volunteers:

We are looking for people in Plymouth who have experienced misconceptions, hate, stigma or other challenges because of who they are and who want to help create better understanding through respectful conversations. If you’re open to sharing your experiences and you’re even slightly curious about being a human book, we want to hear from you.

In a world becoming increasingly divided and parochial, schemes such as this—encouraging “reading” in the most generous and personal sense—are vital in reminding us that behind every label is a human story.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.