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What is a Human Book?

Human Books are people who have experienced prejudice or stereotyping or very significant life experiences; they are open about who they are and are prepared to share their stories. Human Books have made themselves available for Readers to listen, learn and understand what they have always wanted to know about the Human Books' topics.

For example, a Human Book could be a person who has lived in a war zone and has chosen "War Survivor" as their title. This Human Book could share the physical and emotional trauma of living in the midst of war and how it has impacted their life. Furthermore, they may share their perceptions of how others see them: the prejudice or stereotyping they may have experienced. The Reader of this Human Book would have opportunities to ask questions about the Human Book's story.

What is a Human Library?

A Human Library provides an opportunity for Readers to borrow a Human Book for a given time and to hear their story. The Augustana Library offered Alberta's first university-based Human Library. It is the aim of the augustana human library to create a space where individuals may directly engage with those who have experienced prejudice or other significant challenges, for the sake of growing compassion and understanding.

A Human Library is:

  • an opportunity to speak with a Human Book in a structured, protected, private yet completely free space within a limited time
  • a place to tell your story
  • a tool to foster peaceful cohabitation and to bring people closer together in mutual and careful respect for the human dignity of the individual
  • a place that enables the Readers to focus and reflect upon their own prejudices and stereotypes, and to establish a peaceful, positive meeting with one's prejudices
  • a place to learn about experiences which are foreign to you, about which you are curious

A Human Library is not:

  • a public relations exercise looking for spectacular headlines
  • a zoo or display case for rare and exotic species
  • a job recruitment agency or a place to exhibit famous people
  • a forum for promoting a religious, political or ideological agenda
  • an occasion to discuss problems, frustrations or other emotions related to experiences beyond a Human Book topic

The Human Library History

Years ago, in Copenhagen, Denmark, there was a young and idealistic youth organization called Stop The Violence. This non-governmental youth movement was initiated by five young people; they came together after a mutual friend was stabbed in 1993. The brutal attack on their friend, who luckily survived, made the five youth decide to try and do something about racial violence. Raising awareness and using peer group education to mobilize Danish youth, the organization soon had 30,000 members all over the country.

In 2000 Stop The Violence was encouraged by Leif Skov, a music festival organizer, to arrange activities for Roskilde Festival, Denmark’s largest annual music experience. The hope was that this event would put a spotlight on anti-violence, encourage dialogue, and build relations among the festival visitors. Stop The Violence came up with the idea of having people meet face-to-face with their own stereotypes and prejudices in one-on-one conversations. From this the Human Library was born and became a challenge to the crowds of Northern Europe’s biggest summer festival.

Since its humble beginnings in Denmark the Human Library concept has spread across central Europe and around the world. The Council of Europe promotes the Human Library concept with a handbook The Human Library Organizer’s Guide now available in eight languages. Since 2000, Human Library events have occurred in Denmark, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, England, Ukraine, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Belgium, Austria, Poland, Serbia, Spain, Netherlands, Scotland, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Romania and Lithuania.

In nine years the Human Library concept has evolved from one program at one event to a world-wide experience connecting people and building bridges. Human Books may now be checked out at special events such as folk and music festivals, from public libraries, and from university and college libraries.

The augustana human library joins a long and growing list of organizations interested in promoting understanding and compassion between people where prejudice and stereotyping have created misunderstanding and division.


Text adapted with permission from: Ronni Abergel et al., “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover: The Living Library Organizer’s Guide.” humanlibrary.org. [accessed August 25, 2010].