January 20, 2014

The Human Library ~ borrow a book, discover a person

The Human Library is a novel approach to promote discussion, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding, and it is on now as part of Vancouver's PuSh Festival.

It all began in Denmark after a brutal attack on a young person in 1993 when five friends began a movement called Stop Volden, or Stop the Violence in English. Within a few years over 30,000 of Denmark's youth were mobilised as members.The Human Library project grew out of a request to the movement to organise events around nonviolence and dialogue for some of Northern Europe's largest summer festivals and concerts in 2000. Today, Human Library events take place around the world. They are all volunteer based and free to the public.

In Vancouver, the Human Library is curated by Dave Deveau of Zee Zee Theatre Company. It takes place in, oddly enough, the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. About thirty books will be available during the run of the event, including one by our own writer and playwright, Sherry MacDonald.

It's a simple enough process. The books are actually real people with stories to tell. A reader looks over the selection on offer, makes a selection or two which is duly noted on a library card of all things; when was the last time you had a library card I wonder?

At the appointed time, the reader is escorted to their book, and for about twenty minutes a story is told and some sort of discussion takes place. Or not as the case might be.

Book titles are simple and short: HIV Positive, Born Again Christian, Sex Health Educator, Living with Dementia, Funeral Director by Day - Comedian by Night, Single Mother - Three Boys. The idea is to name the book directly and honestly, with a minimum of imaging and branding. All books are volunteers and free to all readers.

For the books, their day can be full. There is much conversation as a book can see up to ten readers during their five hour stint. In that sense it can be rather arduous for the book, I suspect. The consort does have it easier. In fact after taking out a couple of books, I left.

It is also rewarding for both reader and book. It is engaging and interesting; discussion does happen, discoveries are made. Never any late fees.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

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