Human Library

The concept behind the Human Library is simple and well established: individuals identify themselves with a specific ‘title’ and make themselves available as human ‘books’, in order to be ‘read’ by a member of the public. Volunteer ‘books’ often have something to say which focuses upon experienced discrimination or prejudice. Within those terms, I would estimate that everyone involved with New Terms would make a suitable volunteer! For example Disgruntled Art Teacher might wish to discuss aspects of their work in the classroom. Disgruntled Art Student likewise.

The environment of a Human Library (usually situated in a quiet, safe and comfortable space) provides the opportunity for scheduled conversations with strangers. It might be that the New Terms group see the implementation of a Human Library as an opportunity to focus upon education-related experiences and opinions. The ‘books’ might be members of the group, or other interested volunteers.

In order to keep the happening as easy to organise as possible, perhaps just four books could be made available for one hour? Perhaps a couple of learners and a couple of educators? That might make a total of twelve ‘conversations/’book’ readings available for reservation. One can imagine person A reserving Disgruntled Art Student for a conversation:

DAG: Hi there, my name’s ****. Thanks for coming. I’m here to talk about some of my experiences as an art student, especially as I’m not happy about the way some of my tutors have treated students. Do you have a question for me?
A: Yes I do! I’m **** by the way. What sort of art do you study?

And so on and so forth….. Conversations, though started by the ‘book’. may be guided by either party: the ‘book’ or the ‘reader’. Important factors to consider are: there is a specific starting point to the ‘reading’; the atmosphere is relaxed and mutually respectful. My sole experience of a Human Library was informative, memorable and pleasant.

So, perhaps folk coming to a New Terms event might give up to an hour of their time to sit down as a Human Book and discuss their ideas/experiences with people attending the event? Or know of someone who would like to volunteer as a ‘book’? Attendees would look over a catalogue of offered ‘books’ (usually on a board outside of the ‘library’) and reserve that time slot. For example, one might reserve Anarchic Art Teacher, available at 1.00 pm, 1.20 pm, and 1.40 pm.

The concept of the Human Library movement is based upon the promotion of positive dialogue which reduces prejudices and promotes tolerance and understanding. ‘Visitors to a Human Library are given the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan”; this latter group being extremely varied in age, sex and cultural background.’ 1
Previous groups which have used the Human Library method include CRISIS (the homeless charity), People’s Parlour at WOMAD (World of Music and Dance annual summer festival), Year Here (social innovation focused organisation for postgrads).

Those who volunteer as Human Books would need to adhere to the timetable of reservations and make themselves at home in the designated space, which should be furnished as comfortably as possible. The suggested timeslot of 20 minutes is not long for an indepth conversation. At the same time, it is a suggested maximum and can be shortened.

Previous organisers of Human Libraries are able to offer advice and guidance on setting and running an event.

One important question: would it be useful (or appropriate) to make audio recordings of conversations? Might this prove useful in terms of defining a group identity and offering evidence of the existence of such?




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