Human library: a take on my experience

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I had the chance to participate in Winnipeg’s human library held last month at the Millennium Library. Stephen Carney, our librarian, announced the event HERE, a few weeks ago. In the context of a human library, people become books that are "borrowed" by readers for a conversation.

What would you expect by participating in a human library?

Prior to this event, I thought it would be an opportunity for "readers" to learn from the experiences of "human books" and, in the best case, would allow them to overcome prejudices and stereotypes. I was wrong.

A human library is much more than that.

Since it was the first time I participated in this type of event, the day prior, I had many questions in my head ... But I never imagined such a degree of emotion, such beautiful exchanges and sharing moments.

The day upon us, I had barely enough time to get acquainted with the books and other volunteers before the first "readers" arrived. 

Le tableau d'affichage avec les livres humains disponibles
A "reader" consults the billboard of available human books. (Photo credit: Winnipeg Public Library)

I was there as a volunteer to assist the books, ensure their needs were met, and that "readers" respected the meeting and rest times. Some of the books, who were also inexperienced, eagerly and anxiously awaited their first reader...just like me. What should I do if the exchanges were too short? What if they had nothing to say? What if a reader became disrespectful?

To this day, I still don’t know the answers to these questions since the discussions went smoothly. What I saw were smiles, laughter, readers listening intently and books setting aside their rest period to prolong their discussions because, as they told me, "if they’re here today, it’s for their readers."

At the end of the day, one of the books told me: "If I had to sum up the experience in one word, it would be "extraordinary ". I not only engaged in respectful and memorable conversations with strangers, but I also got to meet and talk with many fascinating other human books."

Unlike a traditional library where the exchange of knowledge is exclusively from the book to the reader, here it’s shared in both directions. The reader learns a lot about him or herself as well as others, but the book itself emerges transformed. 

Thus, while the cold snap froze the streets of the city, the Millennium Library was filled with the warmth of books and their "readers"...and I decided to overcome my shyness to register, this time as a reader at a meeting scheduled two days later. On Saturday, I returned to the Millennium Library to "borrow" two books of incredible generosity, a wonderful and overwhelming experience.


Conversation avec un livre humain
In conversation with one of the two human books I had a chance to "borrow". (Photo credit: Winnipeg Public Library)

In total, three days, more than 329 people attended the event and 257 conversations took place. The 2013 edition was a great success and I look forward to next year!

Le tableau d'affichage avec les livres humains disponibles
A "reader" consults the billboard of available human books. (Photo credit: Winnipeg Public Library)

For more information:

  • For more information on the human library and the organizers of the event, read this article: LINK
  • Read Stephen Carney's Blog entry on the Human Library: LINK
  • See photos of the 2013 Winnipeg human library: LINK

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