I keep hearing that “stories make us human.” Now, a Copenhagen-based project has skipped the middleman; at Ronni Abergel’s “Human Library,” visitors can “check out” a person to hear their life story.
At the Human Library, visitors can read one of eight “books”; each human book (this is the terminology the Human Library uses) gives a brief overview of their life story, and then readers are able to ask any question they’d like, no matter how difficult. On the chalkboard, the “Titles of the Day” are listed for potential readers to check out: on the day news organization France 24 visited the Human Library, the titles were Victim of Sexual Assault; Borderline; Complex PTSD; BDSM & Asexual; Deaf & Blind; ADHD; HIV+; and Victim of Incest.
Though these are reductive titles for each human “book”, part of the point of the Human Library is creating a safe space to discuss and learn about difficult and stigmatized human experiences. “[At] the Human Library . . . we can explore diversity, learn about ways in which we’re different from each other, engage with people we would normally never meet, and challenge our unconscious bias,” said Abergel, who created the project in 2000, to France 24. “A reading truly is a conversation.”
Recently, Abergel heard from a reader who borrowed a human book back in 2004. “She was telling us about the impact the book had on her view of Muslims,” Abergel told France 24, “and she has used that information in the seventeen years that have passed. So that has been to the benefit of the community. [But] we run a neutral learning space where there is an opportunity for you to engage, learn about yourself and other groups. What you learn and what you do with your learning is entirely in your hands.”
When visitors check out 46-year-old Iben, who’s worked as a human book for four years, they can choose between three of her oral books: sexual abuse survivor, borderline personality disorder, or severe post-traumatic stress disorder. ““It’s such a gift being a book. You can self-reflect,” said Iben to France 24. “When I started, I was in a totally different place. I’ve been working on myself for years.” Occasionally, Iben is asked a question she doesn’t want to answer: when that happens, she says, “I have said that that page wasn’t written yet. So they just smiled and said okay.”
[h/t France 24]