‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ right about sums up the Human Library Project. The concept is simple, but very powerful: instead of checking out books, you sit with a random stranger for half an hour and listen to his life story. Titles include Child Of The Holocaust Survivors, The Gypsy Tale, Iraq War Veteran, or Orphanage Boy. Just like a book, you’ll be exposed to a unique experience, only you’ll also interact with the author, ask questions and learn much more.
Founded in Denmark in 2000 by a Danish non-profit called “Stop The Violence”, the project intended to start conversation and foster understanding between different types of people that would normally not interact with each other. It has since grown tremendously with events held in over 50 countries around the world. . The first US Human Library came to the Santa Monica Public Library in 2009.
Some of the “books” include Mafruha, a Bangladeshi refugee and poet; Joirute, a Lithuanian with a handicapped daughter; or Rafeik, a homeless drug-addict.
“I started taking drugs when I was 11,” he tells the first four people who chose him. “I increased the doses, mixed ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin. I went to prison.” A listener interrupts to describe his own experience as an alcoholic. He wants advice on how to stop. “For me, the trigger was the day I accepted to see myself as a drug-addict,” explains Gordon.
“I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid. I saw the effects of fear based on ignorance,” said Veena Torchia, a Human Library organizer in London. She believes meeting with a real person can change things. Juliet, one of the “readers,” agrees. “I really identified with one of the “books,” because we had grown up in the same city and were both victims of racism.”
The aim is to foster understanding, but also learning. “People learn, for instance, that an asylum seeker doesn’t have the right to work and therefore won’t steal British jobs,” explained Oz Osborne, a British librarian involved with the project.
Shauna Marie O’Toole, a Human Book whose title was “You Can’t Shave in a Minimart Bathroom,” said: “I think the Human Library project is something that breaks down barriers and rips away differences from something that’s strange, unacceptable or bizarre.
“When we understand the stories, there’s more acceptance, and with more understanding, there’s a prosperous society. That’s why this project is so important. That’s why I’m so honoured to be a part of it.”
For future events near you, check out the Human Library Facebook page. Up next, Feb. 7 in Vancouver with 30 titles ranging from “Drag King” to “In Recovery” and “Eight-Year-Old Inventor.” More: 30 Jan, Minsk; 3 March, North Texas University, 19 March Copenhagen.