Human Library is an initiative that was created by the Danish youth organisation Stop The Violence in 2000 with the aim of breaking down stereotypes through personal storytelling.
Participants are called ‘books’ and they represent a group in the community who are somehow exposed to stigma, prejudice and/or discrimination. Their book title is the label that society has given them or that they have given to themselves. Examples include ‘autistic’, ‘queer’ and ‘depressed’.
The books tell their story to a group of ‘readers’, who are able to ask questions to learn about the human being behind the label. The Human Library aims to establish a safe conversational space, where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and hopefully answered by the human book on loan.
Human Library sessions have been taking place in Storyhouse and challenging societal prejudices wherever and for whatever reasons they occur for some time, but recently, Communities Manager Nicola Haigh has taken the initiative out into the wider community, and into Muir Housing Association for the elderly, in particular.
At their most recent session, 11 residents gathered to ‘read’ two ‘books’ Josie and Jen, titled ‘mental health survivor’ and ‘bipolar’ retrospectively. The books split the readers into two groups and shared their very personal stories, before opening up the floor to questions.
Josie shared her ongoing experiences with depression which challenged the stereotypes of what a ‘depressed’ person might look like on the outside. It also encouraged the readers to share their own experiences of mental health struggles. Josie says, “I’m really passionate about having more positive conversations about mental health.” The take home message was certainly that it’s good to talk.
Jen started her conversation by explaining bipolar as going from a really high mood or mania to a really low mood. She spoke about her personal journey of going through the mental health system and how studying for her degree had given her motivation for the future. The group appreciated her insight into a mental illness that was previously unknown to them, as one reader commented, “all we know about bipolar is what you’ve told us today”.
The event was a great success and, when asked why she wanted to take part in the Human Library initiative, Josie explained, “I love meeting new people and the surprising conversations that come up. I always come away from a session feeling like understanding has been gained, and that goes both ways.”