On June 27th 2020, the Human Library celebrated its 20th anniversary. Twenty years of challenging stereotypes through personal conversations in over 80 countries around the world. A cause for celebration, but also a moment to put those who help make it possible in the spotlight! This series aims to do just that, as we talk with our local book depot managers about the work they do.
Artist, activist and singer-songwriter. Now add book depot manager of the Human Librarys depot in Los Angeles to the list and you have a jack of all trades. Ben joined the newly formed book depot as a book in the fall of 2019 and quickly assumed a central role in the build-up of the new book collection.
Despite the global pandemic limiting the options, Ben has been able to train around fifteen new books since January and is also training more librarians at the moment. However, he has not been alone and is thankful for the support from the HLO team. Talking about the team, Ben’s enthusiasm is clear: “every single person I have come into contact with through this project is so lovely”, he says, “everyone’s heart is in the right place and so willing to help each other and to make it work.” This attests to the kind of movement the Human Library is, he thinks: “The Human Library attracts really incredible people, people with big hearts and a drive to make the world a better place, and those are my people”.
Before the Human Library, Ben was already involved with activism related to poverty, environmental justice, racial justice and fighting for equality related to gender and sexuality – which are all interconnecting issues, he emphasizes.
Being a depot manager is time consuming, so why did he accept? “I believe that the thing the world needs most now is compassion and empathy, and this seems to me one of the most effective projects that I’ve come across to help build that,” Ben explains, “any project aiming at that kind of future I am willing to lend my time, energy and heart to.”
Besides, the project has been personally rewarding as well: “I have been really happy to do it because it makes me better and it makes my life better,” he says. Especially during this pandemic, the book depot has been a source of hope and provided a sense of connection. “It makes me feel positive about the future,” he admits, “and who doesn’t need hope in this time?”.
His favourite aspect of being a depot manager is training the books: “the most rewarding thing about this project so far has been watching the books share their experience for the first time in training, and understanding how powerful this experience can be”. Explaining how most of the books have never attended a Human Library event before, he adds: “The first time they experience it and their face lights up, you can just tell they are so excited about the possibilities with this library.”
The stories of the books affect him as well, both as manager and reader. An 80 year old man publishing as ‘gay’, for example, made an impact on Ben, who also published as ‘gay’: “to hear what an elder’s experience of being gay was, to hear how different it was, and how similar in some cases to my own story, was very powerful to me personally”. On the other hand, he also learns about issues he never knew much about before, when training a book publishing as Schizophrenic for example: “it’s always really powerful to check out a book that I have no idea about, then everything I am learning is new.”
In less than a year, Ben has been trained as a book and published for readers from UCLA. He has then been trained as a book depot manager and put in charge of developing the LA book depot into a community of books and librarians. His experiences have taught him that “there is a huge appetite for this kind of project in the world. We have this need to connect, need to tell our stories, a need to really listen to one another; a need to get out of our comfort zones and our bubbles and meet people that are unlike us.” Ben has noticed that many people are enthusiastic about the concept: “people are ready for the Human Library.”
The Human Library LA Book Depot is still accepting new books. If you live near LA and have personal experiences that can help challenge stereotypes and prejudices or you want to help us publish our books at libraries, schools, conferences, festivals and virtual? Then click here to learn more from The Human Library Book FAQ!