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Learning More at the Human Library

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Can a conversation change the world? Liz Waid and Adam Navis tell about an idea from Denmark – a Human Library. Here, people check out a human book and learn about something new.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

Have you ever heard the English phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Simply, it means that the outside of something does not always match the inside of something. You may see a very exciting cover of a book. But the book itself might be very boring or just terrible!

Voice 2

This saying is the idea behind a worldwide project called The Human Library. A library is full of books. But the Human Library is full of people. At this human Library there are many titles available. You can borrow anyone, from football fan to transgender woman, for 30 minutes. You might have an idea about this person already. But does the book match the cover? Today’s Spotlight is on the Human Library.

Voice 1

The idea for the Human Library started in Denmark. It was for the Rosklide music festival, in Denmark. Festival organizers gathered some people who had a story to tell. Then they invited people at the festival to talk to them. They thought it would be a fun thing for people to do there. The founders of the festival did not plan for the Human Library to last long. But today it has locations all around the world. Its goal is to fight prejudice, when a person dislikes someone else for an unfair reason.

LMU Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Voice 2

Prejudice is a very real threat in Denmark. According to Bloomberg news, many Danes believe that racism is a growing problem. This kind of prejudice can lead to violence against some groups of people. It means some people are treated unfairly because they look different. Prejudice exists all around the world.

Voice 1

Ronni Abergel is one of the founders of the Human Library. He and his partners recognized this problem. So, they started the Human Library to change things. Abergel told Radio New Zealand:

Voice 3

“I said: we should try and create a safe space where we can meet some of the people we think we do not like. It would be like a library where you borrow a police officer, or a night club security bouncer, or football supporter. We have a lot of ideas about people even if we do not know them. Sometimes these ideas are negative. Sometimes they are overly positive. But we do not have access to them, so we do not sit down with them.”

Voice 2

The festival was a very big success. Thousands of people came to borrow different people, like they would borrow books at a library. They were human books. And Abergel began to see something amazing. He began to see people change their minds. He said,

Voice 3

“From the first day, I saw this working. I thought how the whole world needs a library like this, because it works. It creates a safe space where we can challenge what we think we know. We can learn and make up our minds.”

Voice 1

After the Rosklide festival, Abergel had an idea: What if the Human Library was permanent? It would be very difficult. They would need many volunteers. And they would need a permanent building where people could meet. But Abergel and his friends decided it was worth it. So in 2008, they created the Human Library Organization in Denmark.

Human Library at University of Essex” (CC BY 2.0) by University of Essex
Voice 2

Soon, the idea spread to many places in the world. Each Human Library might be a little different. But the basic idea is the same. The Human Library Organization asks people to be the human books. Each of these people has a story that is important to the world. They train the human book with their method. And they give the human book a title. The title could be something like “refugee” or “alcoholic”. Visitors can go to the Human Library. They can check out the human book that interests them. Then the visitor and book have a conversation. These conversations last about a half an hour. But, like any library, the visitor can ask to keep the book for a little longer.

Voice 1

When a person visits a Human Library, they can talk about anything. They can even ask about something they might not be comfortable asking about in person. There is no real structure to these visits. Sometimes visitors only want to ask questions. But often they check out people they disagree with. They come to argue. This is something the Human Library welcomes. The conversation might not be friendly. But even an unfriendly conversation can have positive results. Abergel says:

Voice 3

“We think arguments are very welcome. Because arguments are what we learn from. We might walk away agreeing to disagree. That is also pretty great.”

Voice 2

These conversations can cause people to think differently. They help people unjudge. Sometimes, going to the Human Library changes lives. The Human Library sometimes partners with companies. These companies are trying to become more inclusive. They want to accept many different kinds of people. And they think the Human Library will help them do it. One of these companies is Masco. An employee of Masco talked to Forbes about how the Human Library changed him.

Christina Birkinbine, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Voice 4

“I have Muslim neighbors and friends. And my human book was Muslim. And I was able to ask the book things I never felt good asking my neighbors. I learned more in 20 minutes than I have from people I have known for many years. Now I have the courage to engage differently with my neighbors and my community.”

Voice 1

Today, the Human Library has locations in over 80 countries. Some human books are even available for online conversation. The Human Library will not change everyone overnight. It takes a long time to get rid of prejudice. But the Human Library shows that change is possible when we reach out to others. Change is not big political acts. But it is simple conversations that change the world.

Voice 2

You may not have a Human Library near you. But there are ways to have these conversations on your own. Try to talk to someone you do not know. Be friendly, and open. Ask questions, instead of telling them what you think. Bill Carney is volunteer for a Human Library in the United States. His title is “Black Activist”. He told Forbes Magazine:

Voice 5

“It is easy to hate a group of people. It is more difficult to hate an individual, especially if that person is trying to be friendly.”

Voice 1

What kind of person would you talk to at the Human Library? Have you ever had a conversation that changed you? What was it like? You can email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Voice 2

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Liz Waid. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called, ‘Learning More at the Human Library’.

Voice 1

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever had a conversation that changed you? Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?

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