Monday, January 30, 2012

Case Study No. 0203: Staff of "The Human Library"

What's the Human Library?
A brief and personal insight into this new and creative tool
Tags: Human Library; Diversity: Conversation; Dialogue; Tackling Prejudice and Discrimination; Intergenerational; People; Equality
Added: 1 year ago
From: TheHumanLibrary
Views: 318

The 21st Century Library
A place for solitude and quiet reflection?

The Human Library
Where "Books" come to life

Take out YOUR prejudice
But don't judge a book by its cover

"Borrow" a person
For a face to face conversation

Who is borrowing who?

Asking the questions you've wanted to ask
Muslim or extremist?

Making new connections

I compete for my country
And I'm only 100 years old

I wanted to be a librarian

Human Library
Fun, flexible, and inexpensive
For museums and art galleries???
Oral history, reminiscing, bringing artifacts to life

Produced by Martin Etheridge, Human Libraries UK coordinator

Have you heard about the Living Library
No I ain't got a clue
It's double dutch to me
It sounds crazy
And it sounds weird
Hey that's a prejudice
Unless you hadn't heard
I can see you're blonde
But are you dumb
Yes I'm a woman
And a working mum
I got four kids
And a full time job
So do you think I'm bad
Because I work non stop
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
What's wrong with prejudices
How does it go
People are curious
In case you didn't know
Problem is they're afraid of what's new
But those steps all apply to you
But what do you think of the situation
It's a question of communication
If you don't talk
What do you expect
In order to get it
Gotta give respect
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
But look at all those migrants
What a mess
If they just disappeared
That would be the best
And do you know what I suggest
That you talk to one of them
To get it off your chest
Have you ever talked to a refugee
Or a woman with a headscarf
Can't you see
And the ideal place you gotta believe
Is of course in the Living Library
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
Cause if you don't
It's bad communication
And that's a cause
Of mad discrimination
That's why we need integration
What we want is a united nation
I'm a blonde but I'm not dumb
You're a workaholic and still a good mum
So you can't judge a person on looks alone
Cause I might be dumb but I'm really not blonde
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society
Living Library
Sounds nice to me
It's a way to progress in equality
Living Library
Seems unlikely
But it's a method for respecting our society



It works like a conventional library. Tables and chairs are set out for study. Librarians bustle purposefully, staffing the checkout desk.

Except these aren't books on loan. They're people.

Welcome to the Living Library. Here, you borrow individuals who represent stereotypes that often are the target of prejudice or hatred.

At this east London library on a recent Saturday, there were 26 "books" available, including a Muslim, an immigrant, a transgender individual, a witch, and an Indian atheist.

Readers borrow them for half an hour, hear their narrative, question them, even pry a little, and – so the theory goes – break down some of their preconceptions and stop "judging the book by the cover."

The idea is the brainchild of Ronni Abergel, a Danish antiviolence campaigner, who has taken the Living Library to 12 countries and watched it flourish in places as diverse as Australia and Turkey.

"We live in a time where we need dialogue," says Mr.

Abergel. "With dialogue comes understanding and with that comes tolerance and that's the mission of the Living Library: to promote understanding and tolerance through dialogue."

There is certainly plenty of dialogue at this London venue.

At one table, a Rwandan refugee explains to a listener why immigrants cannot be dismissed both as a drain on the public purse and a threat to local jobs. At another, a transgender individual relates why she felt biologically compelled to change sex. An Indian atheist and a Muslim are setting forth their worldview to "readers."

And those 'books' that aren't currently checked out – among them a witch, a funeral director, a medium and a police officer – are swapping stories in the back room, eating sandwiches, and waiting for their next appointment.

All of the "books" are unpaid volunteers, as are the organizers, recruited for the event.

Upon entry, readers can browse a list of available "books," then sign up for their "book" with volunteer librarians. On this Saturday, more than 50 people signed up, and some books were booked out almost the entire day.

"I've done this in 12 countries now," says Abergel, who has received funding from two organizations, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council of Ministers. "In some places, I'll seed [the idea] and in some I'll put in the seeds and come back and pick the fruits. Here, I'm training someone to do it, helping with their first events."

The types of 'book' engaged vary from country to country. And the response from the public can be instructive. In Britain, for example, the Muslim and the ex-gang member are popular. In Hungary, it was the neo-Nazi, says Abergel. In some countries, homosexual 'books' are popular, but less so in a place like Britain, "because here you're more liberal and used to it."

"In Hungary, the first year, the homosexual didn't go out at all, because people didn't dare – and they didn't take the policeman either."

The concept is proving popular in Australia, Abergel says, with a regular Living Library session once a month in Lismore, New South Wales. "Turkey's just got up and running, and Germany and Austria are doing very well," adds Abergel, who says he has spent 50 percent of his spare time over the past eight years working on his project.

Now he has his eyes on America.

"The next big move in the fall here is to start a tour in the States," he says. "We are looking to go to interested colleges in the States." One date in Fort Wayne, Ind., is inked in and others are interested, says Abergel.

"We also want to take it into businesses. Why not go to large corporations and have their workers come down and have half an hour to have their horizons expanded a little bit?"

Abergel traces the origins of the concept back to a Friday night in Copenhagen, 15 years ago. A friend, just 19, was stabbed six times for no apparent reason. Still a teenager himself, Abergel and three friends responded by setting up Stop the Violence, a group aimed at doing just that.

Seven years later, the group was invited to put on a "happening" at the annual Roskilde rock music festival. The idea of Living Library was born in a brainstorming session in January 2000. But it took several years to get it properly off the ground. Initially, the library had outings at festivals in Denmark, Hungary, and Norway. But three years ago, it started to "franchise" the concept, and now dozens of Living Libraries are held in Europe every year.

"We see it as an important tool to promote democracy and human rights," says Silje Bergum Kinsten of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which sponsors the concept.

For the "books," the event can be a rare opportunity to express their side of the story. Kerry Whybrow, a transgender person, says her readers were interested in why she made the change. She says it was a chance to do a little PR for the 15,000 transsexuals in Britain.

"I'm making my journey and I want people to understand that," she says. "If only 10 of your readers pick up on that and change their attitudes, that's 10 fewer people that are going to be bigoted in their attitude towards some poor old transgender person."

Stephen Fisher, a school inspector, says he learned as much from other "books" as he did from telling readers about the complexities of assessing schools. "Many of our prejudices are just things you don't know and once you explain to people they understand," he says. "I've learned so much about witches that I didn't know."

Abergel admits that the people who could most use a little dialogue, tolerance, and understanding are unlikely to use his library. "People who are extremely prejudiced will never come to a Living Library," he says. "The criticism that we have is we are preaching to the congregation – we're getting people who are open minded.

"But people who are open-minded still need confirmation that they are on the right track," he says.

Another criticism is that not all readers will overcome their prejudice during a 30-minute conversation. Reader David Semple says he found sessions with a funeral director and a police officer most illuminating. But the transgender "book" enlightened him less.

"The conversation was lovely but I'm afraid I still have the prejudice," he says. "I still find it hard to comprehend why you change your gender."



Living Library becomes Human Library
By Peter Scott

It has been almost 10-years since "Menneskebiblioteket" was opened for the first time at Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Shortly after the first event the creators including the author of this article, began promoting the idea outside Denmark. Today more than 45 countries have introduced the concept and so far it has been a great adventure. However when we translated the name of the concept to English, we made a mistake and now the time has come to correct that mistake. We have received documentation from attorneys representing a private company that clearly shows their right to use the old name in the United States and as we are not prepared to pay for the use of this name, we have decided to correct what has long been a mistake anyhow, the name. The correct translation from Danish is "Human Library" as it is human beings on loan and not books. And so we are happy to rectify this mistake now before we reach further territories. As of January 1st 2010 - we are now the Human Library.



Once upon a time in Copenhagen, Denmark. There was a young and idealistic youth organisation called "Stop The Violence". This non-governmental youth movement was self initiatied by the five youngsters Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna, Christoffer Erichsen, Thomas Bertelsen and Ronni Abergel from Copenhagen after a mutual friend was stabbed in the nightlife (1993). The brutal attack on their friend, who luckily survived, made the five youngsters decide to try and do something about the problem. To raise awareness and use peer group education to mobilise danish youngsters against violence. In a few years the organisation had 30.000 members all over the country.

In 2000 Stop The Violence was encouraged by then festival director, Mr. Leif Skov, to organise acitivites for Roskilde Festival. Events that would put focus on anti-violence, encourage dialogue and build relations among the festival visitors. And the Human Library was born, as a challenge to the crowds of Northern Europes biggest summer festival.

The reasoning behind the methodology

One of the main concerns of the inventors, Tobias Rosenberg Jørgensen, Sune Bang, Asma Mouna, Dany Abergel, Philip Lipski Einstein, Christoffer Erichsen and Ronni Abergel, was what would happen if people would not get the point? Or if the audience just simply did not want to be challenged on their prejudices?. Well given that there was a total of 75 books available, the conclusion made was that with so many different people, put together in a rather small space for a long time, they are bound to start reading each other. From the moment they ask the other book what their title is. And that will be the opening question of all books on the first day. And so it was to be. Before the first reader could take it a book, the talks where going on intensively and the feeling of something special was in the air. The policeman sitting there speaking with the graffiti writer. The politician in discussions with the youth activist and the football fan in deep chat with the feminist. It was a win-win situation and has been ever since.

Free to the world

The services of the Human Library has always been free to its public. From the very first event, up to this day. The same goes for new organizers that want to start working with the methodology. An idea with a potential and purpose such as this must be free for all and that is the philosophy of the inventors. Soon after the first event, Peter Wootsch of the Sziget Festivals Civil Island, staged an event in Hungary and after that another was introduced in Norway. In 2003 Mrs. Antje Rothemund the director of the Council of Europe´s European Youth Centre in Budapest, made the methodology a part of the human rights education program. Since then the Council of Europe has been the biggest supporter of the development and promotion of Human Library programs. Today a majority is hosted within the public library sector. Others are located in educational institutions, festivals, books fairs and other relevant settings.

Crucial partners in the development

One of the creators, Ronni Abergel, realising the potential of the idea, decided after the first event, to begin to work to promote the idea to potential new organizers. Since then he has travelled to many countries to organize launch events and present the idea to interested organisations and public authorities. One of the first organizations to take ear to the idea, was the Council of Europe. Without the support and dedication of the Nordic Minister Council and the youth directorate of the Council of Europe. This idea might never have had the chance to reach a global audience. Through the past six years the respective organisations have been crucial partners in the development of the Human Library. From supporting the production of the manual to helping with funding for launch events in different countries. From the very beginning Mr. Peter Wootsch of the Sziget Festival, Mrs. Antje Rothemund from the Council of Europe and Mr. Joachim Clausen from the Nordic Minister Council, have been tremendous allies of the Human Library.

Cost efficient acitivity

Further to having good partners to realise the project. The Human Library has another advantage to organizers around the world. Its not very expensive and can be organized no matter how big or small your budget is. The biggest ressource needed to facilitate a Human Library is time and idle hands to do the tasks. And due to this great quality it has been possible to stage events in a wide range of countries and with very little funding. This feature has made it possible to present Living Libraries in Romania, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Holland, Slovenia, Belgium, Portugal and Australia - to mention a few.

An idea with global appeal

The inventors quickly realised the global appeal and potential and since then have worked to promote the methodology to potential organizers. The goal is to make sure the Human Library reaches it full potential and is applied into use as much as possible in communities around the world. One of the first books in the original Human Library at Roskilde Festival, was the policeman Erik Pontoppidan (posing in the photo) from Copenhagen Metropolitan Police Department. His experiences and much more interesting information, can be found in our "guide" to organizers. Located in our ressources for organizers section you can also find templates for evaluations, marketing material and all what you need to get started with your Human Library.

Australia first country with a permanent Human Library

In the great country down under, the experiences with the Human Library have been so positive, that a 3-year project with government funding has been launched to stimulate more acitivites such as the re-occurring Human Library in Lismore, Australia, that takes place every first friday of the month. The national co-ordinator in Australia, Shauna McIntyre works to mobilise a national network of organizers. Since the first event in November 2006, Shauna and her colleagues have worked hard to promote the idea and now there are many acitivities down under. In Norway organizer, Trygve Augestad, from the Norwegian Peoples Aid, have done amazing work to further develop the concept and made important experiences in a variety of settings.

Recognition for the Human Library

In Austria, the Human Library (called Living Books), won the social project of the year award 2008. In Denmark the Human Library bus tour has been awarded with the Little Brother Award and in Australia it was honored with the Grand Marketing Event of the Year Award. Its great with recognition, but more important that the Human Library can help people recognize themself. The mission is to make the world talk and this is only the beginning of our journey. Many friends have already joined in and soon many more will follow. Look out for a Human Library near you, or build your own in the community.

Where in the world is the Human Library?Living Books waiting to go out with readers

Every where soon we hope, but for now visit the activities section to find out about upcoming events or see the list of Human Library organizer, to find out about local organizers in your country. In 2009 its expected that Brazil, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Malaysia and South Africa will join the circle of countries working with the Human Library (27 in 2008).

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