Human Library - Take out a prejudice

The History of The Human Library

Stop The Violence Human Library 2000 logo.Once upon a time in Copenhagen, Denmark. There was a young and idealistic youth organisation called "Stop The Violence". This non-governmental youth movement was self initiatied by the five youngsters Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna, Christoffer Erichsen, Thomas Bertelsen and Ronni Abergel from Copenhagen after a mutual friend was stabbed in the nightlife (1993). The brutal attack on their friend, who luckily survived, made the five youngsters decide to try and do something about the problem. To raise awareness and use peer group education to mobilise danish youngsters against violence. In a few years the organisation had 30.000 members all over the country.

In 2000 Stop The Violence was encouraged by then festival director, Mr. Leif Skov, to organise acitivites for Roskilde Festival. Events that would put focus on anti-violence, encourage dialogue and build relations among the festival visitors. And the Human Library was born, as a challenge to the crowds of Northern Europes biggest summer festival.

Readers leaving with their arab minority book

The reasoning behind the methodology

One of the main concerns of the inventors, Tobias Rosenberg Jørgensen, Sune Bang, Asma Mouna, Dany Abergel, Philip Lipski Einstein, Christoffer Erichsen and Ronni Abergel, was what would happen if people would not get the point? Or if the audience just simply did not want to be challenged on their prejudices?. Well given that there was a total of 75 books available, the conclusion made was that with so many different people, put together in a rather small space for a long time, they are bound to start reading each other. From the moment they ask the other book what their title is. And that will be the opening question of all books on the first day. And so it was to be. Before the first reader could take it a book, the talks where going on intensively and the feeling of something special was in the air. The policeman sitting there speaking with the graffiti writer. The politician in discussions with the youth activist and the football fan in deep chat with the feminist. It was a win-win situation and has been ever since.

Free to the world

Two supporters from different teams, the book is on the right.

The services of the Human Library has always been free to its public. From the very first event, up to this day. The same goes for new organizers that want to start working with the methodology. An idea with a potential and purpose such as this must be free for all and that is the philosophy of the inventors. Soon after the first event, Peter Wootsch of the Sziget Festivals Civil Island, staged an event in Hungary and after that another was introduced in Norway. In 2003 Mrs. Antje Rothemund the director of the Council of Europe´s European Youth Centre in Budapest, made the methodology a part of the human rights education program. Since then the Council of Europe has been the biggest supporter of the development and promotion of Human Library programs. Today a majority is hosted within the public library sector. Others are located in educational institutions, festivals, books fairs and other relevant settings.

The gay book meeting up with a reader.Crucial partners in the development

One of the creators, Ronni Abergel, realising the potential of the idea, decided after the first event, to begin to work to promote the idea to potential new organizers. Since then he has travelled to many countries to organize launch events and present the idea to interested organisations and public authorities. One of the first organizations to take ear to the idea, was the Council of Europe. Without the support and dedication of the Nordic Minister Council and the youth directorate of the Council of Europe. This idea might never have had the chance to reach a global audience. Through the past six years the respective organisations have been crucial partners in the development of the Human Library. From supporting the production of the manual to helping with funding for launch events in different countries. From the very beginning Mr. Peter Wootsch of the Sziget Festival, Mrs. Antje Rothemund from the Council of Europe and Mr. Joachim Clausen from the Nordic Minister Council, have been tremendous allies of the Human Library. 

Readers with refugee book Maggie Cost efficient acitivity

Further to having good partners to realise the project. The Human Library has another advantage to organizers around the world. Its not very expensive and can be organized no matter how big or small your budget is. The biggest ressource needed to facilitate a Human Library is time and idle hands to do the tasks. And due to this great quality it has been possible to stage events in a wide range of countries and with very little funding. This feature has made it possible to present Living Libraries in Romania, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Holland, Slovenia, Belgium, Portugal and Australia - to mention a few. 

Police Officer Erik PontoppidanAn idea with global appeal

The inventors quickly realised the global appeal and potential and since then have worked to promote the methodology to potential organizers. The goal is to make sure the Human Library reaches it full potential and is applied into use as much as possible in communities around the world. One of the first books in the original Human Library at Roskilde Festival, was the policeman Erik Pontoppidan (posing in the photo) from Copenhagen Metropolitan Police Department. His experiences and much more interesting information, can be found in our "guide" to organizers. Located in our ressources for organizers section you can also find templates for evaluations, marketing material and all what you need to get started with your Human Library. 

Lismore Human Library Grand Opening Nov 2006Australia first country with a permanent Human Library

In the great country down under, the experiences with the Human Library have been so positive, that a 3-year project with government funding has been launched to stimulate more acitivites such as the re-occurring Human Library in Lismore, Australia, that takes place every first friday of the month. The national co-ordinator in Australia, Shauna McIntyre works to mobilise a national network of organizers. Since the first event in November 2006, Shauna and her colleagues have worked hard to promote the idea and now there are many acitivities down under. In Norway organizer, Trygve Augestad, from the Norwegian Peoples Aid, have done amazing work to further develop the concept and made important experiences in a variety of settings.

Human Library Crew Hungary 2003Recognition for the Human Library

In Austria, the Human Library (called Living Books), won the social project of the year award 2008. In Denmark the Human Library bus tour has been awarded with the Little Brother Award and in Australia it was honored with the Grand Marketing Event of the Year Award. Its great with recognition, but more important that the Human Library can help people recognize themself. The mission is to make the world talk and this is only the beginning of our journey. Many friends have already joined in and soon many more will follow. Look out for a Human Library near you, or build your own in the community. 

Where in the world is the Human Library?Living Books waiting to go out with readers

Every where soon we hope, but for now visit the activities section to find out about upcoming events or see the list of Human Library organizer, to find out about local organizers in your country. In 2009 its expected that Brazil, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Malaysia and South Africa will join the circle of countries working with the Human Library (27 in 2008).