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Conversations With a Book


Prejudices, stereotypes and preconceived notions about those who appear to be different to us have most likely always been part of human communities, often resulting in fear, hate and violence. What can be done about it?

In 2000, the non-governmental group Stop The Violence in Denmark had a great idea. They set up a Human Library with books at the Roskilde music festival in order to challenge prejudices and promote dialogue and understanding among festival visitors. The Roskilde festival is Northern Europes biggest summer festival.

In a Human Library, visitors can come, browse through the available titles and check out a book. Visitors are encouraged to look for a book with a specific question in mind: “What’s my prejudice?“ Titles to choose from contain stories from sex workers, muslim women, police officers, asylum seekers, graffiti sprayers, lesbians, transgendered persons, drug addicts and many more. However, the books are not printed books, they are living human beings with a story to tell.

A visitor taking out a book sits down and start a one-on-one conversation with such a living book, asking questions and listening to the stories and life events of someone they would not necessarily talk with in everyday life. A session usually lasts for about half an hour.

The living books are volunteers who might feel stigmatized by other members of a given community, but feel ready to share their stories. Human Library readers are basically determined by the choice of venue which might be a school, a workplace or a public library.

In Roskilde, the initiators set up a library with 75 living books, all of course being new to this kind of project. Before the first visitor arrived, the books, being curious about themselves, had already been starting to talk to each other by asking “What’s your title“? The Human Library proved to be a big success.

By now, the project has since spread to more than 45 countries and is coordinated by the international Human Library organisation based in Denmark. Most Human Library projects tend to be a one-day event at least once a year in a given location. Many events take place in public libraries, but the Human Library can be set up and run in any place.

Stop The Violence was founded by five young people in Copenhagen after a friend was stabbed (but survived) in 1993. The aim was to raise awareness about violence and use peer education as a means.

(Video: vimeo user Youth Department COE with a Creative Commons-licence CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, 18th December 2012.)