Human Library opens the door to conversation and social change

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, August 16 2016

On Friday, August 19 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and on Saturday, August 20 from 2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Gabriolans will be borrowing “Human Books” from a curated collection of topics and life experiences in an event called The Human Library that is a worldwide movement for social change. The event is offered in partnership with the Vancouver Island Public Library (VIRL) and the Gabriola Arts Council (GAC) and will be held during the Gabriola Theatre Festival weekend. 

Charlie Cheffins, acting GAC President said, “The Human Library project is a perfect partnership program for GAC and the Gabriola Library, and we’re excited about introducing it at this year’s Theatre Festival. It’s a great way to satisfy GAC’s goal of building community, encouraging diversity and respect, challenging stereotypes, and fostering new relationships among community members.

“The concept is wonderful— relying on oral storytelling, it offers non-threatening opportunities to connect with others you might not ever have had a chance to talk with, and to learn about someone else’s life experiences.”

The Human Library was started in Copenhagen by a collective called Stop the Violence in 2000, and since then it has been seen in over 70 countries. The concept is about narrowing the ideological gaps that divide us, one person at a time. It’s a 20-minute one-on-one conversation with a human book that will challenge stereotypes and create positive dialogues. Questions are expected, appreciated and answered. 

“Students created the event to combat bigotry and prejudice 15 years ago. Now it’s taken over libraries, community centres, and museums too,” says Customer Services Librarian , Gabriola Island Branch, Amy Dawley. “Humans are taking the place of a book you would check out and read except this “read” is a conversation. The beauty of the idea is that the human book and the reader enter into a checkout, an understanding that a person will be open and there are no questions that can’t be asked. I have a respect for the volunteers who have chosen to be the books. They are putting themselves in a very vulnerable position.” 

There will be 12 books in all, each title reflecting a different life experience for 20 minutes. There is a sign up limit of two human books per patron.  Dawley says Alina Cerminara from GAC came to her with the idea and got the ball rolling after hearing about an international performing arts festival in Vancouver called PuSh that offers The Human Library with the tag: borrow a book discover a life.

“This is the kind of stuff that has the potential to make an enormous impact on the fabric of our community,” says Dawley. “It builds compassion and understanding for everyone. It’s an opportunity for people to challenge what they think they know. Many of the subjects consist of taboo topics and that’s what the human library is designed to unpack. It’s ok to admit that you might not understand something.”

Some of the books will be couples checked out but most will be a single person. 

“It’s designed to start conversations in the community and I hope it’s the start of something. We have a place to begin conversations and help people begin to understand differences,” says Dawley.

What is the Gender Binary and How Can I Escape It? Is one book title with the summary: Two queers in love discuss what it means to be neither a man nor a woman.  Some other topics include Living with Bipolar Disorder: I’d rather chew glass. There are others titled From the Pentagon to Gabriola: Vietnam Era Deserter and historical books and snapshots of where people are in life. “People are advocating for their experiences, this is a big experiment and we’ll see where it goes,” says Dawley.  

Each book will be telling a real story about a true life experience. Conversations will happen in different places around the library. Please contact the Gabriola Island branch library at 250.247.7878 to sign up ahead of time. The event is free and a library card is not required.