'Living Library': the world is conquered by places where you can 'read' an interesting person

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    The Living Library international project was founded in 2000 in Denmark. In such libraries, anyone can take a person instead of a book to tell their life story for 30 minutes, according to Mediabrest.

    'Living Library': the world is conquered by places where you can 'read' an interesting person

    Photo: Depositphotos

    Have you heard a lot about Muslims and Gypsies, about policemen and journalists, about homosexuals and feminists, about priests and scientists? Surely you have some opinion about such people (and about many, many others). But did you really have the opportunity to talk to such a person, learn about how he lives, and ask questions that concern you?

    You can do this in the Living Library, says Nabiraem.

    This man founded a library to build bridges

    The Human Library Organization is a registered international non-profit organization headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    The Living Library was founded 21 years ago by Ronnie Abergel, a Danish human rights activist and journalist who is interested in the anti-violence movement after a friend he describes as a “troubled youth” survives a stab wound in Copenhagen.

    Abergel was born and raised in Denmark but lived in the US as an exchange student and saw political the climate is becoming more and more biased.

    He wondered if such a library could bring people together like a traditional one. Only then will stigmatized or non-traditional people be treated like books—readers can lend them, ask them questions, learn something they didn't know, and question their perceptions.

    “I had a theory that it might work because the library is one of the few places in our community where everyone is welcome, whether you are rich or poor, homeless or castle-dweller, professor or illiterate,” he says. – This is truly the most inclusive institution of our time.”

    Abergel's idea sold like a bestseller. The Living Library has held events in more than 80 countries, in libraries, museums, festivals and schools. According to Abergel, there are more than 1,000 human books in circulation in more than 50 languages, with a particularly strong presence in American cities like Chicago and San Francisco.

    If people read a book, they don't need a translator. The librarian makes sure that readers are paired with someone whose language they understand.

    “If you speak English, we won't put you in a room with French books,” says Abergel.

    Abergel believes the library's mission has become even more relevant in recent years. People around the world are becoming increasingly divided due to social media bubbles, political persuasion and the demagogues who maintain these divisions in order to gain power.

    Abergel says people need to talk to other people who see the world is different – without verbal skirmishes.

    “People want to have safe places to socialize and perhaps defuse tension in the air,” he says.

    How and why to “read” a person

    Each “human book” from this libraries represent a group that faces prejudice or stigmatization because of their lifestyle, ethnicity, beliefs or disability, CNN reports.

    A person's book can be, for example, an alcoholic, or a Muslim, or a homeless person, or someone who has been sexually assaulted.

    The Living Library hosts in-person and online events where “difficult questions are expected, evaluated and answered.” Organizers say they are trying to encourage people to “not judge” a book by its cover.

    The goal of the project is to fight stereotypes and prejudices. In “living” libraries, people of various religions, nationalities, professions, social strata, etc. act as books. Each of these “books” has its own title: “unemployed”, “refugee”, “bipolar” and others. The incoming “reader” can choose whose story he wants to know. He can ask various questions in order to leave with the answers he wants and a broader view of the people around him.

    It is interesting that the “living” libraries also have their own catalogs. They indicate not only the name and title of the “book”, but also a brief autobiography, as well as the most pressing questions that you can ask them to delve deeper into the topic.

    “Reading living “books” is not a monologue, but a dialogue between a person who cannot imagine himself in the place of the interlocutor and has a preconceived notion about him, and a “book” that is ready to answer questions and help get rid of prejudice. Each “book” has its own “cover” – a label that a member of the library has to carry through life: “drug addict”, “homeless”, “Caucasian”. The reader behind this cover should see, hear and understand a person through a one-on-one conversation,” said one of the project organizers.

    The “Living Library” works in the same way as a regular library: “readers” come in, fill out a library card, choose a “book” and read it for a certain amount of time. Then they return the “book” to the library and, if they want, take another. The only difference is that the books of the Living Library are living people, and reading is a conversation.

    People who participate in the event as “living books” will try to sincerely answer any of your questions.

    They are ready to share their life experience and calmly discuss with the “readers” the stereotypes and prejudices regarding the group to which the “books” belong. As a last resort, if the “book” finds your question too personal or offensive, it will simply refuse to answer it and offer to talk about something else.

    Living Library services are completely free for readers. There are no stupid questions at Living Libraries.

    Living Library in the USA

    On a rainy spring morning in Muncie, Indiana, a middle-aged white conservative woman met a transgender woman at a meeting.

    It didn't start well. A transgender woman was waiting at the table when another woman appeared. She stood up and held out her hand. Another woman refused to shake it.

    “I want you to know that I am a conservative Christian,” she said, still standing.

    “I am a liberal Christian,” the transgender woman replied woman. Let's talk.”

    Their date was supposed to last about 30 minutes. But the conversation was so exciting for both that it lasted for an hour. It ended with the conservative woman rising from her seat to hug another woman.

    “Thank you! It was great”, – she said.

    This incredible meeting is thanks to the Living Library.

    This project brings together the most unlikely couples anyone has ever seen.

    < p>A feminist meets a Muslim woman wearing a hijab and asks if she wears it voluntarily or under duress.
    A climate change activist meets someone who believes global warming is a hoax.
    A black anti-racist activist meets a Trump supporter.

    Or, in the case of Charlize Jamieson, a transgender woman meets a conservative Christian woman who thinks she lives in sin.

    Jamison says she agreed to be the “book” in the library because she wants to encourage empathy. Vibrant and cheerful, she says she spent years denying who she was while working in corporate America.

    “There are sharp corners around people, and people form opinions based on what other people say or what the TV news says,” she says. – And then you get in front of them, and sometimes you cut those sharp corners like a nail file.”

    How to open the Living Library “book”

    The Covid-19 pandemic also reinforced the importance of the Living Library.

    Most of its events have traditionally been held in person, but the organizers have adapted. The virus drove millions of people indoors, they were isolated in their homes and were afraid to be too close to strangers.

    The library began to conduct sessions online. The session began when a cheerful presenter appeared on the screen, introducing herself as the “chief librarian.” Sitting in a brightly lit room lined with bookshelves, the librarian told an online audience of 43 “readers” that they were free to ask any questions, “as long as you ask questions respectfully.”

    You will only have 30 minutes per book, as the host said, so keep that in mind. “Don't waste time asking about the weather,” she said. – Make it personal.”

    The screen went blank for a moment, and then a broad-shouldered man with a cropped beard and faded hair appeared, sitting in what looked like a comfortable bedroom. He was identified only as a “wheelchair user”, and he began by reassuring listeners that “there are no stupid questions.”

    For the next 30 minutes, the interviewees asked questions: What was it like going to school as a child? How should I offer help to a person with a disability if I see that they need help in public? What do you do with sexual intimacy?

    The man answered everything. He said being a wheelchair user is hard work. Taking the subway to see friends requires up to three hours of planning. Just making sure you're near a wheelchair-accessible bathroom is a huge challenge, he says.

    People with disabilities can't act spontaneously, he said. – I just can't go out to lunch today.”

    Next was a young woman diagnosed with an eating disorder. She waved her long, slender arms expressively as she explained in excruciating detail how she had gone from 180 kg to 45 kg. This is caused by an uncle's cruel remark about her weight when she was a girl.

    “It reinforced the idea that there is nothing more important than being thin,” the woman said, her voice breaking with emotion.

    And so it went, person after person, opening the pages to the most intimate details own life. The session included about eight “books” with titles ranging from autism, black activist, transgender, ethnic minority to Muslim.

    The emotional tone of the conversations created an unexpected sense of closeness. Listeners nodded their heads in agreement or smiled reassuringly as the books flipped through the pages of their lives.

    It was a case where the Internet brought people together, not divided them.

    “It was wonderful, one human book said before saying goodbye. – Stay safe and healthy wherever you are.”

    Abergel, founder of Human Library, says books are tested and taught to interact with others. He says people who apply for books but want to participate in political debates or have other goals are not accepted.

    “We are completely neutral, neutral like Switzerland,” he says. – As long as you don't preach hatred or intolerance, you have potential on our bookshelf.”

    The library helped bring two neighbors closer

    The non-partisan nature of the library has made it attractive to corporations interested in diversity education. The library hosts “reading room” events where company employees meet with books for 30-minute sessions at the revolving tables. The library has also provided an internal “human bookshelf” for companies such as Microsoft, Heineken, and Procter & Gamble.

    Currently, the plan is to create a Human Library app that will allow the reader to use a smartphone to search for the desired topic and customize reading.

    One of the library's biggest supporters is Masco, a Michigan-based company that makes home and building products. Keith Allman, CEO of Masco, recalls a conversation with a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, a head covering some Muslim women wear to show modesty in the presence of men who are not their immediate family.

    Allman says that he grew up in a “white-and-white middle-class environment” on a farm in West Michigan, so interacting with her broadened his horizons.

    “I grew up Catholic and thought the hijab was a mechanism for men to control women,” he says. – She made me think it was no different than praying.”

    Allman says his company is partnering with the Human Library because he thinks it's not enough for companies to have employees of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. origin. According to him, these employees also need to feel that they are being listened to.

    “People on a team don’t feel like they belong together, or that a member of their team has their back, or that they can completely immerse themselves in work,” he says.

    The library session was close to the goal for one of the Masco employees. Sue Sabo was talking to a Muslim book when she mentioned that she had a neighbor who was also a Muslim, but she never asked her about her faith.
    “Maybe now is the time to start,” the book suggested.

    So Sabo decided to do just that. She noticed that her neighbor had some kind of Islamic icon hanging on her porch and asked what it represented. A conversation ensued. This was the first time Sabo spoke to her neighbor about her faith. More conversations followed.

    “Now she says if I have a question, don’t be shy,” Szabo says. – I can google and learn a lot about the Muslim faith, but I can't understand it as well as when I hear about it from a person.”

    This face-to-face interaction was what transgender woman Jamison, when I decided to become a book in the library.

    Jamison spent 30 years in retail and IT management, hiding who she was from the world. She had a wife and three children, but she thought she would lose everything if she confessed.

    This denial led to a double existence where she dressed in women's clothing when no one was around.

    When Jamieson finally stopped hiding her true self, she says her wife and children have supported her. When her son said, “I'll have your back,” Jamison says, “it was like a thousand pounds off my shoulders.”

    She is still married to her wife. And now, after many years of hiding, it has become an open book. She shares her story with others, whose attitudes can change simply by listening to her.

    A conversation between someone like Jamison and a stranger may seem unimportant.

    But at a time when our political and cultural differences have become so hateful, listening to the story of someone we disagree with can be the most radical thing anyone can do.

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