We're all storytellers one way or another, and the Human Library makes it official. Instead of books, you borrow a person for half an hour, during which they tell you stories about themselves and answer your questions about their life .
It's an idea I wrote about some years ago and since then it has become an international movement, with more than 30 countries having hosted Human Libraries. The first one in the UK took place in Swiss Cottage, London, with 14 "books" and 49 readers.
The angle was "What's your prejudice?"-- that this was a way to find out about people with whom you might not normally have contact. The Human Library website says, "You could say that every Human Library is different and has its own best sellers. The most popular title [at the Swiss Cottage event] was the ex-gang member and the disabled person, both booked all day, but also titles such as the gay man and the social worker got great reviews from readers. All readers are asked to do book reviews for future readers and some of them are great fun to read."
I have to say it's slightly weird to see people reduced to their labels but I guess the point is that when you hear their stories you're less likely to do that kind of reductive labeling in the future. However, the typical reader probably is an open-minded person who just wants to find out more, rather than one who is prejudiced. That's still a useful function. One of the London readers said the value of the event for him was "having a chance to talk properly and ask questions of people without seeming rude."
One person who has attended a number of such events says they have always gone smoothly except for one case in which a man hung around the sex worker book too long.
The site lists four such events in Canada this month. Although not listed on the international website, there's also a Human Library day on Jan 25, 2014 at Rundel Library, Monroe County, New York, co-sponsored by the University of Rochester. The human book titles will include Third Culture Kid (a woman who grew up in 3 countries and speaks 4 languages), "More Than Just Sittin' Pretty: Funny and Real Stories About Life in a Wheelchair," and "VietNam Veteran."
What would be your title if you were a human book?
What title would you be most interested to check out?
If you are interested in participating as a book or a reader, check the international website to find an organizer in your country.