Prove your humanity

When was the last time you borrowed a book from the library? Not just a textbook that the Co-op doesn’t stock, but a real book.

Would you borrow a human book?

It’s an odd concept with a similar basis — you can borrow a human book if you wish to learn more about a certain topic. Readers are offered a ‘blurb’ for a number of human books that are available, then they pick the one they would like to borrow and sit down with them for a while to have a chat.

The Human Library Australia recently ran their latest event on Curtin University campus. From Tuesday 19th to Thursday 21st for a couple hours around midday. The team set up at the Hexagon with a number of ‘books’ available for keen readers.

From the ‘21st Century Man’ with a wealth of experience on intersectionality, to a young woman whose legal blindness doesn’t stop her from watching her favourite shows on Netflix, there were many interesting stories to be told.

Dr Greg Watson is a lecturer at Curtin and the coordinator and facilitator of the Perth branch of the Human Library, an organisation that has international reach.

He said the idea of the human library first began in Copenhagen, Denmark in the early 1990s. At the time there was a large influx of foreign workers into a largely homogenous society with a strong sense of national pride. Consequently, tensions began to arise between different ethnic groups, sometimes erupting into violent actions.

Greg says it was a group of young men who, after their friend was stabbed, decided they had to do something to break down these barriers of difference in their community. They founded a group called ‘Stop the Violence’ and began to mobilise their peers and raise awareness against violence.

The group were asked to hold an event at the Roskilde Festival (the biggest music festival in northern Europe) to promote anti-violence and a positive discourse amongst festival goers. After more than a thousand people participants, Menneskebiblioteket (‘Human Library’) was taking off.

“It started off about trying to help people have a better understanding about ethnicity and culture and so forth, and how we should appreciate that, and how we should work against racism. Then over time it became ‘Well how about other differences as well?’” said Greg.

The Human Library has since spread across the globe, beginning in Australia in 2006 in Lismore, NSW, a place that was known for being a very open and accepting place. Greg said the question was: “How do we tap into the good nature of this community, but also be honest about confronting the negative responses in this community as well?”

The Perth branch of the Human Library is slowly building itself up. Greg says at this stage they wait for an invitation to collaborate for one-off events, but are looking expand in the near future.

“I try to be realistic with it. It’s not something that’s gonna change the world. I don’t think it’s gonna be something that changes Perth. Whenever we do it, wherever we do it, we get good feedback.”


For more information on the Human Library, visit their website.