Learning More at the Human Library

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Can a conversation change the world? In recognition of the UN’s “Human Rights Day”, 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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37 comments
  • People in my country are pretty prejudice about gay people and honestly it’s not my job to tell them they should hate them or not since it’s understandable that they do not welcome hosexuality because the country is based on a religious culture but the thing is, they support harmful actions and prejudice towards them which is a different case of inhumanity this is not about a religion but about a social error and mistake that should be fixed so I want to meet one of the people who support such actions so we talk it out

  • the human library is a good idea. in every country the people are preduje with some part of the people so if they talk with them they might get answers an know the right think

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    I don’t remember any but I have always tried to empathize with other people because we don’t know the reason for their comments or actions towards people, so we shouldn’t judge without first trying to get to know each other.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    No, I consider myself a very reserved person and the people around me know it, I don’t like other people to know about me because I think that at the same time it’s not good, that’s why I try to be empathetic with others because we don’t know what the situations that other people go through in their day to day. I say this from my experience.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    I think that I have never changer for someone, only by my own mistakes or problems
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    Yes, I have. Sometimes it’s neccesary explain the context or your feelings and thoughts for explain you better

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    Yes, in my teenage years I committed vandalism and my parents noticed and had a very serious talk with me which made me change.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    Yes i have, but I am actually a reserved person to talk about myself, when private topics come up during a conversation and I am confident, I talk about it.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    With my grandparents, when I was in my time when I was very rebellious, they spoke to me in a very serious way and the truth is that I felt that my way of being had changed for the better.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    Yes, when I meet a person I like to talk about who I am, since I am a very serious person and I don’t like them to think that I don’t like them or something, I need to gain confidence to let go further.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    Yes, when I have deep conversations with someone I try to take what I can to improve myself.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    Yes, in the past. Now I don’t usually worry about explaining who I am and why I do what I do.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    Talking to my mom always makes me feel better and many times I change my ways of thinking since I consider myself to be a self-centered person.

    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    No, because I am a very reserved person, unless I already have enough confidence, I do it, but if they ask me

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    Well, in my life I think I’ve had different conversations that each of them have changed me at least a little, I like to listen to other people who at least have more experience than me and receive their advice.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    I am a somewhat reserved person, but if the conversation about a personal topic occurs, I am someone who does tell about himself

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    I don’t remember any, maybe some advice but not as a conversation, I feel that the actions are what have made me change, maybe I would have liked to take the time with someone I trust.

    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people?
    Maybe not about me, but I would like to listen and see how people solve problems.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you? Yes, I have had very serious conversations with my mother, due to actions that she has taken that have not been the best and she has known how to support me and make me see things in a different way. Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people? I am not a person who likes to know about her, I am very reserved with my things, but I am very good at listening and supporting

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you? Yes, when My grandma explained me that Revenge was not good and if I do something to hurt someone only because I’m upset I can make that perdón feel really sad and I can regret latter, but I can’t repair the damage I alredy did.
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people? No really, only on work interviews.

  • Have you ever had a conversation that changed you?
    Yes I think, advices from my dad when we talk about problems that I have
    Have you ever wanted to explain more about yourself to other people? Not much, only when is necesary

  • Yes , I had. Yes, sometimes need to explain more and argue with them to Self-defense and protect.

  • Yes I have a close friend, when I talk with him about any problem , He make me see the things By another side ! I love when I talk with him.

  • This app is not only improvement English but I have gained more advace in my life.
    So thank you for your help I’m appreciative of you

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