The Human Library: Learning To Embrace Differences

The last session of the Human Library in Wrocław was held as recently as last weekend. Keen to see what the Human Library experience is like, I went along to the event to find out.

A Human library is a library whereby the 'books' are human beings; everyday people with unique life experiences and perspectives that are worthy of some serious thought.

The aim of the Human Library is to raise awareness regarding minorities and to help us discover and challenge our prejudices. The concept was conceived in Copenhagen back in the year 2000; since then it has grown to become an international phenomenon. The event has been repeatedly held here in Wrocław for around 10 years now. 

How does it work then? 

After registering your name at the Human Library, you can choose from a list of available 'books' shown on the LCD screen by the registration table. Once you've made your decision, you are guided to a table to sit down and chat with your human book.

'Reading' books at the Human Library is very much an interactive experience. You start by asking a question and then let the conversation flow from that moment onwards – a process that can comfortably last 30 minutes. By getting an insight into a chapter of your book's life, you may even find yourself willing to open a new chapter in your own life. 

What kind of people can you talk to? 

Saturday’s list of human books included people from different walks of life. People with different ideologies, sexual orientations, nationalities, careers and life experiences. For example, Christian, Muslim and atheist 'books' were available. People who had endured tough situations were also on the list; a person who had gone through major depression and an individual who had dealt with homelessness.

Naturally, not all the human books speak the same language. Therefore, to overcome the language barrier, a 'dictionary' is provided along with the human book. As with the books, the dictionaries are also people, specifically those with the language skills to help foster a conversation between yourself and the 'book'.

One of the 'books' that I spent a lot of time talking to was Helena, the mother of a gay man. After talking with her I learned about how she had spoken to her son about his sexuality while he has in his teens. It was fascinating to find out how the two of them then formed a bond during the boy's journey to adulthood. I also learned about how Helena's acceptance of her son's sexuality is at odds with the many people here in Poland – particularly in the church. 

Helena's personal and touching story truly opened my eyes as to the challenges that the LGBT community face in a number of different countries across the globe. Her story is just one example of the many that you can come across at the Human Library – there are countless others that can broaden your perspective on things. 

Why should you visit the Human Library?

Speaking to the people at the Human Library is a great way to debunk some of prejudices and false perspectives that may lie hidden in our minds. In fact, sometimes our minds can come up with all kinds of creative ways to keep our prejudices hidden from ourselves. Sometimes our presuppositions may even be manifested in our reluctance to borrow a certain human book.

In the Human Library you can learn to have a dialogue with those who hold views different to your own. By doing so, we can learn to see things from a different perspective and learn to respect differences. On the other hand you may find that some of the 'books' have far much more in common with you than you ever imagined – proof indeed that we are not all so different after all.

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