by Bill Schubart The Human Library movement has been with us since 2000. Human libraries have opened on six continents, with libraries in Louisiana and Indiana in this country and in Denmark, Ireland, France, England, and more opening around the world.
Let’s start one here in Vermont.
What is a human library? It’s a virtual library of people. People are the books.
The movement originated to generate and enrich conversation, foster understanding, if not always agreement. Its motto is “Unjudge Someone.” Users can check out people for individual or group discussion.
Imagine a newly formed restorative justice committee checking out a recently released offender who has served fifteen years in prison so that they might better understand incarceration’s effect on people’s lives.
Imagine checking out a young mother denied an abortion, now a single mother, or a young woman who has had an abortion and can speak about its emotional and physical effects.
Imagine an alcohol-treatment / recovery program being able to check out a recovered alcoholic or former opiate addict to know firsthand the experience of addiction and recovery.
Imagine a schoolteacher being able to check out an adult who can share their experience of having been bullied as a child, or a police department being able to check out a rape victim or a victim of a white supremacist attack.
Imagine you’ve started a new nonprofit and want to better understand the structure and obligations of a board of trustees and you check out an expert on nonprofit governance and leadership.
Imagine medical students studying neurodivergent physchology and checking out a neurodivergent person for discussion and better understanding.
Imagine the resources available to high school guidance counselors who could check out retirees from all the professions, from stonemasons to thoracic surgeons, to share their experience and knowledge with students.
Growing up in Morrisville, once I became proficient at reading in third grade, we began our weekly visits to the library next door to the school. I was introduced to new books there and began discovering whole new worlds I never knew existed. Our small Carnegie Library opened up a world beyond the confines of Morrisville and 70 years on I’m still discovering.
Like books, people are a wealth of knowledge and experience. One of my great sadnesses when I hear a friend has died is my sense of the loss of that person’s accrued knowledge, wisdom, and experience. The human library can make that wealth available during their lifetimes.
The Human Library is a library of people. Like books, they can be borrowed from the library for discussion, learning and enhanced mutual understanding. Human books can be borrowed for a few hours to have a discussion that imparts knowledge, story, experience, but in all cases seeks to create greater mutual understanding between the “book” and the borrower(s).
It’s a self-described safe place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered. It prides itself on hosting personal conversations designed “to challenge stigma and stereotypes.”
Here is an English “Book of the Month” on “deafness and depression.”
Here is another, “Paris went into the foster system when she was six years old. ‘I was at school, and my teacher at the time said that she wanted to speak to me after school and that some people wanted to meet me. These were people from an organization called NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They explained that I was not going to go back home and that I needed to come with them.’”
I have never checked out a human book but, in retrospect, my experience going into group treatment for an eating disorder when I was in my early 40s was very similar. I was amidst human books struggling with the same disease of obesity and we learned from one another. Our groups were like a book discussion in which we shared our experience, pain and small successes with one another. In essence, I moved into a human library of similar books and that was the genesis of my own recovery. I have applied to be a "book."
Our country today is rife with irrational culture wars, bias-confirmation echo chambers and isolating social media platforms. We’re at the frontier of a new virtual world with the unregulated debut of artificial intelligence. What new distortions in communication lie ahead?
The Human Library is an organization that facilitates expanded human contact. Human beings grow and develop through a diversity of interpersonal contact, dialogue, and shared experience. We were once taught from an early age to pay attention, listen to one another respectfully, and be open to new ideas. As the mind expands, so does the heart’s ability to experience empathy and affection and to register a vital sense of connection to the variety of human experience.
Let’s start a Human Library here in Vermont.
Bill Schubart is a writer and author from Hinesburg. This piece first appeared on VTDigger. com. He can find more of his work at Schubart.com.
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