"You can walk in, borrow a human being and talk to them about a very challenging topic," says the founder.
A library is one of the few places where the name on your identity card, the money in your bank account, or the places you visit after-hours mean nothing. A library is a place that throws its arms open to everybody. So one man, Ronni Abergel, decided to take the inclusively of a library one step further by opening up the Human Library. But instead of having regular books in his library, Ronni thought people could be the "books," and the people who borrow them can dive into their stories and "unjudge" a book by its cover.
The people volunteering as "books" at the Human Library are individuals, who are often stigmatized or come from unconventional backgrounds. And those who borrow them can ask questions and see all their preconceived notions melt away.
"The Human Library is, in the true sense of the word, a library of people. We host events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to," says the nonprofit's website. "Every human book from our bookshelf, represent a group in our society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin, etc."
With the way the Human Library pairs people up, a conservative Christian might find herself sitting across a Satanist, an age-old supporter of the Grand Old Party might have a conversation with a BLM supporter, or the CEO of a multi-national company might share the same bench as a homeless victim of abuse.
The Human Library was created to provide a safe space “where you can walk in, borrow a human being and talk to them about a very challenging topic. Ideally, we wanted people to talk about issues that they normally would not talk about, or potentially don’t like to talk about, but that we need to talk about," Abergel said, as quoted by Forbes.
Since Abergel set up the Human Library in Denmark in 2000, the idea has successfully spread and led to events being hosted in over 80 countries. Cities in the US, like Chicago and San Francisco, also often become hosts for Human Library events.
Today, the Human Library is best known for creating safe spaces where difficult questions can be asked, and honest answers are given in return. "People want to have safe spaces to connect and maybe diffuse some of the tension in the air," Abergel said while speaking to CNN.
Charlize Jamieson, a transgender woman, devotes her time as a "book" in the Human Library so that her story can break stereotypes and let borrowers empathize with her.
"There's rough edges around people, and people form opinions based on what other people say or what the TV news says," she said. "And then you get in front of them, and you're sometimes like a nail file, filing off those rough edges."
Another volunteer "book" at the Human Library, Bill Carney identifies as an Afropolitan and said one-on-one meetings have a different kind of power that a group with the same purpose might not have.
"It’s easy to hate a group of people, but it’s harder to hate an individual, particularly if that person is trying to be friendly and open and accommodating and totally non-threatening," Carney said. "...I’m not pompous enough to believe that a 25-minute conversation with me is going to change anybody. What I am pompous enough to believe is that if I can just instill the slightest bit of cognitive dissonance, then their brain will do the rest for me. And it will at least force them to ask questions."
Cover image source: Human Library International/Instagram