Welcome To The Human Library, A Place With No Books And Endless Conversations.

Libraries usually have a pretty strict “no talking” rule, but it’s the total opposite in Denmark’s The Human Library. In fact, talking is what The Human Library is all about!

Danish journalist and human rights activist Ronni Abergel started the first non-profit Human Library in Copenhagen in 2000. His idea was to create a safe space to discuss difficult topics. Instead of books, the library’s resources are human beings who have experienced a topic at hand.

Ronni’s movement has grown a lot since their first trial run at the Roskilde Festival more than 20 years ago. There are now Human Libraries in more than 80 countries!

When you walk into a Human Library, you’re greeted by a list of the day’s available books. These books are actually human volunteers who have “published” their unique stories and experiences. Once you make your selection, you sit down with the “book,” either alone or in a group, and have a conversation about the topic at hand. The idea is to expand your mind by listening to someone else’s life experience.

“We looked for people that were homeless, unemployed, depressed, had mental health issues, had certain disabilities, they could help educate us,” Ronni explained. “What could be a better source to learn from than someone who has had a lived experience?”

Ronni says he chose to call his platform a library because they’re integral parts of our communities unfettered by cultural or financial differences.

“Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, no matter who you are, we could all meet up there and learn,” he said.

In a play on the saying, “never judge a book by its cover,” The Human Library’s motto is “Unjudge Someone.” Science tells us that we size someone up in the first few seconds after meeting them. While we can’t stop our brains from making those snap judgements, we can work to discredit first impressions by listening to people’s stories.

The Human Library’s learning platform aims “to challenge stigma and stereotypes.” In order to do that, the volunteers openly discuss topics that can be taboo such as what it’s like to be a single parent, an ex-drug addict, or disabled.

No questions or answers are off-limits, and most people walk away from the conversation with a new appreciation and empathy for others. Ronni believes that opening your mind to another human’s experiences breaks us out of our shells and expands our world view.

“We tend to get organised with people that look like us and do the same thing as we do,” he said. “Sometimes there’ll be something on the surface which makes it difficult to identify as strongly as we would with others, but once you get underneath that, behind the cover of the book, you realise that you have a lot more in common.”

In light of our collective isolating experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ronni thinks The Human Library’s mission is more important now than ever before. They plan to expand their concept into a web app to keep these important conversations going, no matter what the future holds!

Don’t forget to share this story to tell a friend about this incredible experiential library.

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