People take the place of books in the global Human Library

Stephanie Ross

Think you can read people? You can at the Human Library, an international project that aims to dissolve prejudices by getting people to talk to others they wouldn’t ordinarily meet

This summer, a group of keen readers met at a library in Mogadishu, Somalia. They were there to have a browse and further their knowledge. But they were reading people, not books.

Beginning in Denmark in 2000, the Human Library now has projects in more than 80 countries. The concept is simple: readers can borrow a real person for 30 minutes, listen to their story, and ask questions. Thousands of people across the world have now ‘read’ stories from the library. ‘Books’ include Brain Damaged, Alcoholic, Polyamorous, Young Single Mother and Naturist.

“There are so many issues we are not dealing with as a society,” says founder Ronni Abergel. “Refugees, mental health, homelessness, sexuality, alcoholism, the list goes on. How often do you get to have an honest conversation with someone who is affected by such things?”

It was eye-opening for me as a ‘book’, as much as it was for my readers to learn my story

Noura Søborg is another title in the library. A refugee and feminist, she fled Syria in 2011 and settled in Copenhagen. “Taking part in the Human Library allowed me not only to share my own story, but it gave me insight into the new society I was living in, the people I was newly surrounded by.

Muffe Vulnuz, also known as the Extreme Body Modified book, also features in the Human Library

“It was eye-opening for me as a ‘book’, as much as it was for my readers to learn my story.”

Fellow title Katy Jon Went (Asexual Non-Binary Bipolar) agrees that the experience is a two-way street. “It is unusual because the book can answer back. I find very illuminating the questions your reader wants to ask. The Human Library helps me be seen as an individual, and promotes understanding about my life.”


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Library sessions have now taken place in Australia, Iceland, Finland, Romania, Slovenia, Belgium and the Netherlands, among other countries. The Human Library partners with universities, businesses and NGOs including Amnesty and Crisis. The Human Library is currently running a series of events in the UK entitled Open Your World, featuring some of the library’s ‘bestsellers’.

“Libraries are the last neutral spaces in society, places where there is no agenda, where people can be free to ask what they want. It’s amazing the conversations that can flow from that,” says Abergel.

“All we ask is that they return our books in the same condition they found them.”

Photos: the Human Library


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