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The Human Library: Real People With Real Stories

Before the internet, social media, and mobile devices took over our world, many of us spent our growing up days frequenting the libraries in search of knowledge. I love going to the libraries, so much so that I even volunteered to be a school librarian during my teenage years. A library to me is the “wonder of the world.” It is always one of the first places I will check out when I move to a new city.

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My personal library space at home started as a little corner in the attic of a 2-bedroom house in France to now an entire living area that I call my reading room in Singapore. The last time I moved, 20 boxes of books moved with me.

I thought I knew all about the library. Alas, not until recently, when I read an article about “The Human Library.” Intrigued, I “googled” and discovered that this Danish idea started more than twenty years ago and has since spread to over 80 countries.

Instead of borrowing books, readers borrow “people, a.k.a. human-books ” from the library. These books are people who have experienced prejudice, social exclusion or stigma, and they volunteered to share their stories. Readers can ask the “books” questions about their experience, challenges, and how they handle them. The project aims to create a safe environment where stereotypes and prejudices can be addressed through open dialogue. Watch the following clip if you want to learn more about it:

TCG human library video

The concept is quite extraordinary. The thought that everyone is a book and we can borrow it from a Human Library is exciting. There are mountains of challenges we face today, climate, health, society, and the list goes on. Technology alone is not the answer. We need greater wisdom than what technology can offer. Humans created these problems, and we can only resolve them if we genuinely care for one another.

All of us have unconscious bias; often, our unconscious bias stops us from making connections with those different from us. The good news is we can learn how to remove it. Open dialogue allows us to share experiences, exchange ideas, learn from each other, accept and create the connection we need. Another good news is in general; humans are made to help and be good to each other; otherwise, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. So there is hope!

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “there is a house built in gold hidden in every book (书中自有黄金屋).” If we want to live a rich life, don’t wait for the Human Library Project or its organised event to come to us. After all, the “Human Books” are everywhere; what it takes is for us to say a simple “Hello”, take off our tinted glasses and start a conversation without prejudice.

Be surprised by how vast your library collection can be and how much “wealth” is around you!

Take heed of the advice from the library: DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER, learn to “Unjudge”, and “Embrace” the stories of the “books” for your best reading experience. Try it out, pick up a “book”, start reading again.

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