It is common to have many questions when considering organising a Human Library and we hope this list will offer some information or clarification for some common questions.
What exactly is a Human Library?
The Human Library is an international equalities movement, created by a Danish youth organisation in 2000 and now operational in more than 70 countries. It is an inclusive way to challenge prejudice and discrimination and promote equality and diversity. It was developed to challenge societal prejudices wherever and for whatever reasons they occur, and to help people form a better understanding of those with whom they share their communities.
Who usually organises Human Libraries?
Human Libraries can be organised by anyone who understands the importance of challenging the stereotypes and prejudice that often lead to stigma and discrimination, and who wants to promote respect for difference and diversity in their communities. Human Libraries can be organised by a single person or organisation but usually work much more effectively when organised by a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences.
Where do events usually take place?
Human Libraries have traditionally been held in public libraries, festivals, colleges and universities and even shopping centres and market places! A Human Library can be held wherever there is likely to be plenty of people you can attract to borrow Human Books and sit down for a conversation.
What is a Human Book?
A Human Book is a person who has volunteered to challenge prejudice through respectful conversation with members of the public who borrow them. They will have a title that relates to the prejudice, stigma or discrimination that they want to challenge.
Can anyone be a Human Book?
No. Only people who have experience that can challenge prejudice due to issues such as race, sex, age, disability, sexual preference, gender identity, class, religion/belief, lifestyle choices or other aspects of their identity can be a Book. Book Titles must directly reflect the prejudice that the Book wants to challenge.
How many Books do you need for an event?
Events in the UK have varied from five or six Books to more than 70. The number of Books you recruit will depend on many factors such as time, finance and resources, also the size or shape of the space you are using and the number of volunteer Staff that you have available. The best advice for a first time Organiser is to try and recruit around 10-15 Books which is enough to ensure you present Readers with a wide choice and your Human Library challenges a diverse range of different prejudices. 10-15 Books can be managed by a relatively small staff team of 5 or 6.
Can we have a single themed Human Library to reflect the work of our organisation?
No. The Human Library cannot be used to promote a single issue, such as Mental Health, LGBTI, Disability, Faith, Refugees or any other exclusive cause. Every Human Library should include a diverse range of titles that challenge prejudice towards issues including race, sex, age, disability, sexual preference, gender identity, class, religion/belief, lifestyle choices or other aspects of identity that can lead to prejudice, stigma, stereotype and discrimination. The Human Library aims to engender an understanding that: our communities are diverse but that some people are subjected to prejudice and discrimination; that we can all think in stereotypes and make assumptions about others; and that sometimes our attitudes and opinions can affect our behaviour. The Human Library achieves this aim by using the language and mechanism of a library to facilitate conversations that can challenge the stereotypes and prejudice which can form opinions in any one of us.
Can we use the Human Library to promote our work or ideologies?
No. The Human Library has been created specifically as an equalities project to challenge stereotype, prejudice, stigma and discrimination. It should never be used to further specific ideologies, raise awareness of issues other than prejudice and discrimination, for any commercial reasons, or as a means to promote an organisation or individuals’ business or political interests.
Can Books choose creative and quirky titles?
Organisers should make it clear to all Books that their role is to challenge stereotypes and prejudice relating to their own experiences. Therefore their titles should be directly related to this experience and as simple as possible. Examples of effective titles are: Refugee, Bipolar, Gay Man, Gang Member, Muslim, HIV+, Transgender, Young Single Parent, Recovering Addict, Migrant Worker, Ex-Offender, Punk, Traveller…
In order to challenge a stereotype or prejudice the Book title needs to directly relate to that prejudice in order to be easily understood by potential Readers.
How would we make sure Books are safe at the Human Library?
Safety is an understandable priority for Organisers. It is important to state that, out of the many thousands of conversations that have happened through Human Library events in the UK, the safety of Books has never been seriously compromised. There are many actions Organisers can take to safeguard Books, including who and how you recruit, the roles of Staff, and the creation of a ‘safe word’ or phrase to enable the controlled and safe ending of conversations if necessary.