The Human Library creates an opportunity to break down prejudices and encourage understanding through interaction and humor. Through this very basic and positive approach, visitors to a Human Library can speak informally with “people on loan”. In order to develop understanding and dissolve barriers, it is necessary to have a diverse “people on loan” group.
The concept revolves around the concept of books (people on loan), who have to be open and prepared to share their experiences, and readers who can take advantage of opportunities to learn more about unfamiliar and sometimes scary topics. Topics can be anything from vegetarianism to being Muslim. Confronting those topics in a safe environment, allows both “books” and “readers” to grow in understanding and to create a broader sense of ownership of the community. That is, it’s difficult to feel like a stakeholder in your community if fear is a predominant perspective. The Human Library, then, is an opportunity to create a stronger community.
According to their website:
“The Human Library enables groups to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner. It is a concrete, easily transferable and affordable way of promoting tolerance and understanding.”
These libraries can occur in a variety of different ways, as specific events, or in the case of Australia, as a permanent location. The Council of Europe has developed it as part of their human rights education program, where it could naturally fit for South Bend.
This idea seems particularly timely with much of the national political discourse recently being focused on bans, immigrant status, and outright racism. A Human Library, even as a temporary project, could help breakdown some of the barriers that geographic isolation offers. Partners could include the St. Joseph County Public Library, Hope Ministries, the Civil Rights Heritage Center, the LGBTQ Center, and La Casa De Amistad, among others.