Complex Made Simple

Would you like to become a volunteer book, and be read at a library?

A global phenomenon is unfolding where “readers” can check out a human “book” for half an hour to help us all “un-judge” one another

Readers are encouraged to ask the difficult questions they always wondered about The 'Human Library' concept exists in more than 85 countries worldwide The next generations of libraries are those with decentralized library space, more pop-ups and bookmobiles

In Denmark, there are libraries where you can borrow a person instead of a book to listen to their life story for 30 minutes. Each person has a title, be it “unemployed”, “refugee”, “bipolar”, or others, it is by listening to their story that one should realize how much they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes.

This innovative and brilliant project is active in more than 50 countries. It’s called ‘The Human Library.’

The birth of this phenomenon

In 2000, what began as a Danish experimental event designed for the Roskilde Festival has since transformed into a global phenomenon where “readers” can check out a human “book” for half an hour to help us all “un-judge” one another.

The first human library was organized by Ronni Abergel, his brother Dany, and their colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen. What happened was over a thousand readers came to peruse the human books available during the 4-day event.  This success led to the foundation of the Human Library Organization, which has since carried on the lending of human books.

One can volunteer to be a book and offer first-hand knowledge of their experiences. The books are titled simply and bluntly with names like “Alcoholic,” “Bipolar,” “Depression,” and others.

Readers check out books for half an hour at the library which then creates a space where readers can listen to the stories of these human books. Readers are encouraged to ask the difficult questions they always wondered about but never had a chance to ask.  

The Human Library Organization today holds pop-up events around the world and even has permanent borrowing locations in several cities.

Research has shown that positive interaction with individuals can affect a person’s tolerance and views of the group to which that individual belongs.  

Check out how to become a book or a reader.

Countries with human libraries

In Kenya, citizens are used to the normal library; where they can physically visit and sit there reading, doing their research, discussion or borrow certain books.

But pictures circulating on social media of people sitting opposite each other, in a manner indicating that they are in a discussion revealed they are indeed images from a Human Library in the country.

Human Library Organization’s idea reached the US and Canada in 2008, and since then, it has spread to many countries. In 2018, the Human Library premiered in Kenya, Panama, and Botswana, among others countries.

“Today our concept exists in more than 85 countries worldwide, known as ‘Human Library Organization’. The Human Library is present in Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America, and Europe,” the organization said.

The other library evolution taking place

For more than a decade, traditional libraries have been investing in a range of technologies and media to couple the physical with the so-called digital full-stack.

With a wealth of electronic books and streaming platforms, offering free Wi-Fi and social services as well as a place where physical books and DVDs coexist with e-books, many libraries started providing digital services for their communities. In 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries would become nearly “totally virtual,” according to Anthony Marx, the president, and chief executive of the New York Public Library, the nation’s largest library system after the Library of Congress.

Before the pandemic, the big information and circulation desks that were often a fixture in library design “had fallen out of favor,” Jo Giudice, the director of the Dallas Public Library, said.

“We instead started using mobile desks that we could move around the floor,” she said.  

Giudice added that the library is also forgoing the communal tables that had become ubiquitous in office design across many industries.

“We were going to use larger tables that were hard-wired, but we’re instead going to have smaller public tables that seat one or two people that will have access to outlets, but not hard-wired, so we can move the tables,” she said.  

The research arm of Gensler, the architecture and design firm, has been studying libraries for several years. In a 2019 report, Gensler found that libraries were now “people-centered not collections centered.”

The next generations of libraries are those with decentralized library space, more pop-ups and bookmobiles, low-touch kiosks, drive-up pickup, webinar-based storytimes and programs, technology-integrated conference spaces available to the community, and remote reference and information search services.

The increased reliance on digital works has also highlighted a problem that libraries face: the cost of technology. Libraries need to purchase a license for each e-book. Publishers typically charge libraries more than consumers, based on the assumption that the lending of e-books erodes profits since they can be read by multiple users.