When I saw the links to the Human Library in the Power of Stories module I knew it sounded familiar. Back in August, my Aunt Colleen had shared a Facebook post with me that had information about the Human Library. At the time, I didn’t seek out any additional information and simply “liked” the post—now I’m intrigued. The Human Library is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a collection of humans, volunteering to answer questions and share their stories for the sake of education and connection. The organization’s tagline is “Unjudge Someone.” They strive to help people move beyond biases, first impressions and assumptions. Checking a “book” out of the Human Library ensures access to space for truthful accounts of lived experiences, straight from the source.
This semester I am taking two classes along with the Hyperlinked Library, one of which is Cultural Competence (INFO 281 seminar—highly recommended). In the class, I have taken many implicit bias tests and an in-depth test to assess my cultural intelligence. I have begun critical self-reflection of my biases and how they impact my job as an information professional and my everyday life as a human. Like myself, many individuals and groups are looking to increase their levels of self-awareness, empathy, and cultural competence. It can be really difficult figuring out where to start and what action steps to take. Access to the Human Library—people volunteering to answer questions from others curious about their lived experiences—is a tremendous resource for strengthening cultural competence. One volunteer for the Human Library says, “It’s easy to hate a group of people, but it’s harder to hate an individual, particularly if that person is trying to be friendly and open and accommodating and totally non-threatening” (Elsesser, 2020). Putting a name and a face to a cultural identity can lead to success of the Human Library’s mission for its readers to “unjudge someone.”
Not only does the presence of a Human Library afford people the opportunity to grow their cultural intelligence, it fills the inherent need for human connection through storytelling. “Hyperlinks are people too” (Stephens, 2020). Libraries offering a physical space (or virtual space) for people to gather, bridging cultural gaps, makes for a stronger community bound by a newfound shared experience. I cannot recall the last time I sat down with a true stranger and asked them intimate questions about their identity, but I know it would leave a profound impact on me.
The Human Library has made its way to the United States after growing roots in Denmark in the early 2000s. In my information gathering, I discovered that the organization is currently holding events via Zoom, some even in my time zone! The format is similar to the regular in-person process, where you sign up to check out a “book” and meet with them in a breakout room. It’s officially on my list of Things to Do.
Elsesser, K. (2020, July 13). The human library is tackling diversity and inclusion one person at a time.
Human Library. (2020). About the human library.
Stephens, M. (2020). The hyperlinked library model [Lecture].