Why do you go to the library? For books, yes—but you like books because they tell stories. (Here are 20 books you definitely should have read by now.) You hope to get lost in a story or be transported into someone else’s life. At one type of library, you can do just that—even though there’s not a single book.
At a Human Library, instead of books, you can “borrow” people. People with unique life stories volunteer to be the “books.” For a certain amount of time, you can ask them questions and listen to their stories, which are as fascinating and as immersive as any you can find in a book. (If you attend, make sure to brush up on the habits that make you a good listener.) Many of the stories have to do with some kind of stereotype or stigmatized topic. You can speak with a refugee. A soldier suffering from PTSD. A homeless person. A woman living with HIV. The Human Library encourages people to challenge their own preconceived notions—to truly get to know, and learn from, someone they might otherwise make a snap judgement about. According to its website, The Human Library is “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.”
The Human Library Organization came to be in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. Ronni Abergel, his brother Dany, and some colleagues hosted a four-day event during a major Northern European festival, hoping to raise awareness about violence among youth. After the success of this event, Abergel founded the Human Library Organization, which has been growing ever since.
Though there are a few permanent human libraries, most aren’t places at all, but events. Though many do take place at physical libraries, you don’t need a library card—anyone can come and be part of the experience. (We bet you never knew about this cool perk of library cards, though.) There have been human library events all over the globe, in universities and in pubs, from Chicago to Tunis to Edinburgh to San Antonio. Check out the organization’s Facebook page to see when the Human Library might be arriving near you.
The stories these “books” tell range from fascinating to heartbreaking and everything in between. And that’s the very point of the organization—to prove that no person can be summed up in just one word. It seeks to show people that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover—or by its title or label. Learn more, and find out how you can get involved, on the organization’s website. Next, check out these pictures of America’s most beautiful libraries.