If you know anyone who’s fond of saying their life is an “open book”, you might want to direct them to the Human Library. A worldwide community, it held its first event in New Delhi earlier this month, having already established chapters in Hyderabad, Mumbai and other cities with Surat and Pune set to add to the bibliography.
The Human Library Project was started by Ronni Abergel, his brother Dany and co-workers Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen in Copenhagan in 2000, with an aim of breaking down social prejudices and giving people an opportunity to see things from the perspectives of others to help overcome negative stereotypes.
Since its inception, the project has spread to over 70 countries and across their towns, both large and small.
In simple terms, the project invites people in different cities to come and be either “Books” or “Readers”. The Books, people -- especially those with engaging or trying experiences -- are encouraged to talk about their lives with the readers, in a one-on-one conversation which usually lasts between 20-30 minutes.
There could be a conservationist from whom you could learn more about climate change, a priest with whom you could engage with about spirituality, or a former addict willing to share their troubled past and how they overcame it.
In short, there is something for almost everybody, and offers you the opportunity to engage with someone over your interests or get the chance to learn something new. And hopefully help the world become a more understanding place.
The third dimension to this is the actual organization that goes into the events which is a daunting task. According to Lyzandra Lewis, the ‘Head Librarian’ of the Hyderabad chapter, which is the most active in the country, it all begins on the main website of The Human Library Project.
“If you want to start a chapter in your city, you first need to register on the site and get permission from the regulatory body in Denmark. And after you’ve got permission to begin a chapter, you have to conduct a short interviews with prospective books to screen them and ensure they are able to put across their point of view and hopefully help readers get a more informed opinion on any misconceptions they might be harbouring,” she says. The Hyderabad chapter, which began in March and holds monthly sessions, currently boasts of 80 books and 260 readers, with the figures rising every month.
People interested in becoming either need to register on the site as well before they can attend an event. Lewis says their sessions usually go on from 11am-6pm, with books coming in from anywhere from half to full days, depending on their availability and schedules, and readers are also encouraged to “read” at least four books.
Lewis hopes her efforts and that of her fellow members, around the world, are doing some good, evolving one opinion at the time.
“If anyone wants to begin a chapter in their city, I would recommend they attend an event at an established chapter first so that they can get the whole gamut of experience as well as understand the logistics involved,” says Lewis, adding that the events see a number of repeat Books as well as Readers. So go ahead and take a leaf out of someone else’s pages. You never know what epiphany you may get.