On June 27th the Human Library will celebrate Unjudgement Day, to honour our 20th anniversary. On this day, an international digital event will be held where readers can interact with books from across the world. Besides, several depots have organised their own events. The concept of the Human Library seems more relevant than ever, even twenty years after its inception. Both the global pandemic and recent Black Lives Matter protests have made existing inequalities more evident than ever and demonstrate the importance of human connection and understanding across differences. Three human library organizers – Ben, Katy and Rafsan – talk about their recent work and why the Human Library is important, especially now.
Ben – LA Book Depot Manager
After volunteering as a book for the Human Library last year, Ben started as depot manager in LA in January. That means he only had a few months as depot manager before everything went digital when lockdown was implemented in the US. Fortunately, however, translating the idea of the Human Library into a digital space has been going well and he admits that “during this pandemic, it has been a source of hope for me and a source of connection. It makes me feel positive about the future.” The LA depot will host their first virtual event on Unjudgement Day using Zoom with fifteen different books available to readers.
Ben is passionate about the Human Library and its capacity for change: “This is what the planet needs right now to get past our predispositions for war and violence and get to a place of diplomacy and care towards one another.”
He also emphasizes that the Human Library is relevant to current BLM protests. “The protests point out how important telling the stories and lifting the voices of black people is in this country,” he says. The Human Library can play an important role here: “This project is important because it holds a space in which black people can be heard and share their stories, and where white people can show up and learn and expand their consciousness, allowing someone else’s story to take center-stage.” The LA depot can help, as it has “some great black books, who are great at telling their stories in moving and powerful ways,” Ben explains. Their stories, among the stories of other books, can be heard for the first time during LA’s Unjudgement Day event this weekend.
Katy – UK Coordinator
Katy has been involved with the Human Library for eleven years as a book and three years as organizer and trainer based in the UK. Even though the UK’s Unjudgement Day events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, some UK-based books will be available to read on the international digital Unjudgement Day event.
Katy feels that the value of the Human Library lies in its ability to create opportunities for personal change through one-on-one conversations: “I found that one-to-ones are often more powerful than the one-to-manys, and even though that means that it will take a lot longer to improve the world we live in, if you multiply the one-to-ones happening, it can actually grow very quickly”.
The BLM protests have made her even more aware that the Human Library needs more people of color to be part of the local book depots, Katy thinks. Simultaneously, however, she emphasizes how this also means that the Library should be platforming more police officers. Furthermore, the focus on accessibility counts for all books: “As the Human Library, we should be making sure our events are not white – but also not cis, and not able-bodied. That is the whole point of the Human Library, we never focus on one group. All of our events have to have a minimum of six diversities, preferably eight, out of twelve broad categories that we recognize.”
“We are about creating the opportunity for everyone to improve and create a better world themselves,” she says, “We are not creating the world, we are creating the opportunity. And the opportunity is always a conversation.”
Rafsan – Bangladesh Book Depot Manager
Rafsan got involved with the Human Library in 2017 and played a role in co-founding the Bangladesh depot in the capital Dhaka. They have also published the books at a virtual event recently and with the feedback so far more are in the pipeline: “I think the nice part was that people were able to have a positive or thought-provoking experience in the middle of everything that has been going on. We were under strict lockdown during that time. Therefore, many were getting frustrated staying indoors day after day. Readers were able to have a fresh experience and something to think about in the middle of all this chaos.”
Like Katy, Rafsan values the Human Library for its intimate setting: “The one-on-one intimate conversation method is unique and great for impactfully sharing the message,” he says, adding that “The stories are the heart of Human Library.” While this can also happen digitally, Rafsan does miss the feeling that face-to-face conversation brings.
Currently, he is busy engaging in fundraisers related to the pandemic and helping to distribute protective material to health care workers, as the lockdown has partially lifted but cases are increasing. This is also the reason BLM protests have not taken places as much as in the UK and the US. Furthermore, racism in Bangladesh is different. 98% are ethnically Bengali, and racism comes more in the form of colourism. Still, the global protests have sparked tough conversations about this issue, and he is planning to continue this conversation in the Human Library in Bangladesh.
Need for Unjudgement
While Ben, Katy and Rafsan have been with the Human Library for different amounts of time and work in different parts of the world, their experiences and motivations for continuing their work for the Human Library during these trying times are very similar. It is all about creating opportunities to find common ground and perhaps some mutual understanding – in short: a chance to unjudge each other.
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