The Human Library offers conversations that can challenge the prejudices we have or assumptions we make.
The reasons why stereotypes and prejudices exist and why people hold them are numerous and wide-ranging. Likewise, there are many different people in any given community who could experience prejudice, stigma and discrimination. For these reasons, the Human Library aims to challenge discrimination towards all individuals and groups.
Many individual or societal prejudices are based on stereotype or lack of knowledge. As uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes our opinions and attitudes are based upon stereotype and prejudice and we might be unaware that we respond in such a way. Think about the first thing that comes into your mind when you encounter terms such as ‘Schizophrenic’, ‘Drug Addict’, ‘Chav’, ‘Transgender’, ‘HIV+’, ‘Asylum Seeker’, or even ‘Traffic Warden’ and ‘Footballer’s Wife’. It is likely that all of our responses will be influenced to some degree by stereotype or prejudice.
It is only by reflecting the diversity of our communities that the Human Library can effectively challenge prejudice, stigma and discrimination. We take pride in our principles of inclusion and choice and these are the foundations and most important factors in the Human Library methodology.
Inclusion is of vital importance because the Human Library supports all groups, communities and individuals who experience prejudice, stigma or discrimination. The Human Library does not highlight a single issue or cause because we believe that prejudice and discrimination has to be challenged in the widest possible context. That is why Human Books are recruited from a wide-range of backgrounds to represent and potentially challenge the multiple prejudices, stereotypes, and stigma that can be experienced by the multiple groups, communities and individual or collective identities within our communities. This is not only a powerful statement of inclusion, it allows for a wide-range of social contact between volunteers and Readers. In addition it provides volunteers the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds who may have different experiences to share but together they are volunteering for the same reason: to challenge prejudice.
Choice is equally vital. Readers must be given a choice from a range of titles, and this is why the mechanism of a library was chosen, and why the Human Library is so effective. We recognise that not all Readers will be aware of their own prejudices, let alone motivated to publicly declare and challenge them. But we do know that Readers are motivated to participate for a wide variety of reasons and therefore must be given choices: the choice to participate, the widest possible choice of who to borrow, and the choice of which questions to ask.
Books must also be given choices: the choice to volunteer in the first place, whether to answer the Reader’s questions, and whether to ask questions of their own. Therefore, the Human Library provides opportunities to volunteer and socially interact with people from backgrounds other than their own, and gives a voice to people often dispossessed of one.
In order to offer such choice the Human Library has to be inclusive. Inclusion and choice provides Readers with opportunities to engage with a diverse range of people on equal terms, and Readers often report that it is only after their Human Library conversations that they became aware of some subconscious prejudices and how they affect their attitudes and behaviours.
Although Books use personal experience to challenge prejudice, the Human Library is not a mechanism for storytelling or self-promotion. It is a movement that encourages social contact and intercultural dialogue to promote equality and acceptance, and reduce discrimination and hate. Every Book title directly provokes or acknowledges the stereotype, stigma or prejudice that the Book wants to challenge, leaving Readers to make their choice based on a limited amount of information.
The Human Library has always been a movement for anyone who feels prejudiced against, for any reason. A ‘themed’ Human Library that seeks to challenge prejudice towards a single group, cause or issue, goes against the principles of choice and inclusion that are so important to the movement, limiting the choice of the Reader and excluding people who do not belong to the group, cause or issue, but have experience relevant to the fight against prejudice.
These principles constitute the methodology of the Human Library and must be understood and applied by all Organisers, Books and Staff at every Human Library event.