Meet a Totally Unexpected Library

Checkout people instead of books!

Nov 29, 2021
Special Collections: CHANGEMAKERS
Meet a Totally Unexpected Library | Checkout people instead of books!

Who says we don’t often judge a book by its cover? Just consider the preconceptions that we bring to the table whenever we meet strangers for the first time, especially people with very different lifestyles or histories. Yet the Human Library has been working to shake this up, encouraging a sense of shared humanity for almost two decades.

At this library, you can “borrow” people for half an hour’s conversation instead of books. And listening to their story, speaking to someone from outside your usual circle, you might just review your perspective!

Ronni Abegel: Founder with a unique vision
Danish changemaker, Ronni Abergel, is Human Library’s founder. His nonprofit’s richly-stocked library of living books is an expression of his purpose; he wants to get people talking to other people who might lead very different lives to themselves.

Abergel is modest. He refrains from taking credit for his idea, seeing the mission as so much larger than himself. He just wants to get the whole world listening and talking, as he told Goodnet: “The library as we know it has been around for thousands of years, why should this library not be around as long as mankind is around? I don't see why not, so my job is to mature the work and the organization to survive” in a lasting way.

How does the Human Library work?
As its website details, the Human Library hosts weekly events in local communities with volunteer “human books” who welcome members of the public to  come and talk to them. Here, “difficult questions are expected,  appreciated and answered.” 

The Human Library explains that it is “an association which strives to create empathy, respect, and understanding for the diversity in society through our work. We do this, by creating a safe space for dialogue… A place where people who otherwise would never meet nor talk, can find room for conversation.”

It also acts as a thought leader in diversity and inclusion training through its work with business in corporate settings.

Participant testimonies are heartfelt. For instance:  “The man with depression, thank you so much for sharing. Your experience has really inspired me.” - eBay Reader

And the following: “I could really feel when my prejudice bubbled up and confronting that was insightful” StubHub Reader

Just like traditional libraries, the Human Library spotlights one of its books each month. This past month, it has zoomed in on Holocaust survivor, Yoka, who has given her permission for her photo to be featured on Goodnet. 

Where are the Human Library’s branches located?
CNN reports that as Abergel’s idea has spread like a bestseller, the Human Library “has hosted events in more than 80 countries, in libraries, museums, festivals and schools. It has more than 1,000 human books in circulation in more than 50 languages, with an especially strong presence in American cities such as Chicago and San Francisco.”

Headquartered in Denmark, the Human Library has a permanent “Library and Reading Garden” in Copenhagen, created for private conversations with human books. 

The Pandemic has led to many virtual events as well, which have served as a timely way to reach out to scores of people isolated indoors at home, and fearful of being too close to strangers, restoring their sense of connection and community.

What does the future hold for the Human Library?
Ronni Abergel told Goodnet that his hopes for the future are “That we succeed in building a sustainable future for the library. By embedding into civil society, institutions and local authorities. And by building sustainable local infrastructure around the world, enabling us one day to get the whole world talking.”

The Human Library team also told Goodnet that it is now developing an app that will allow readers to use a smartphone to search for a desired topic and set up a reading. Through the app, it plans to create a digital learning platform that will “expand the reach of the Human Library’s learning experiences across the globe. It will address cultural, religious, social, and ethnic differences by offering direct conversations with people experiencing stigma, discrimination, or prejudice, and challenge stereotypes.”

This exceptional library is always looking to publish new open books for its libraries: “We can promise that being a book in the Human Library is more than you expect and something you will never forget. It is also an opportunity to meet a lot of people that are different from you and yet you will find you share a lot in common.”

Human Library founder, Abergel, is gifted with wisdom as well as vision. As he tells TheListTV in our video, “We all judge, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. We should only be ashamed of resisting giving people the opportunity to be unjudged.”

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.
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