12 April 2018

Lessons Learned from a Human Library

Intro Copy

Recently, we blogged about the March for Our Lives movement, a student-led movement against gun violence which arose after 17 students and educators were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. In the early 1990s, the youth in Copenhagen, Denmark, also began a movement against violence. That movement, called “Stop the Violence,” had been created by five young people to focus on interracial violence after one of their friends was stabbed. The name of the group was inspired by a Stop the Violence movement in the United States, which was created by rapper KRS-One in response to violence in hip-hop communities. In 2000, the organizer of a summer music festival in Europe, known as the Roskilde Festival, asked the Danish group to come up with an activity for the event. That activity, the Human Library, has since spread around the world. The Human Library, also known as a living library, is an event set up like a library, but instead of borrowing books, people are "on loan" to readers for engaging conversations. The people on loan come from different walks of life and are there to answer questions about their lives. The Human Library can take a proactive approach to violence because it aims to fight stereotypes and prejudice and encourage understanding. The available “books” vary by library and can include diverse people, such as atheists, transgender individuals, witches, and refugees.

Human Library at Broward College North Campus Library

We were recently invited to attend a Human Library event in our community. Broward College North Campus Library hosted a Human Library event on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. The event provided the opportunity for students and library users to chat with people from diverse backgrounds on topics such as immigration, homelessness, blindness and visual impairments, and developmental disabilities among others. Booths were set up with the human “books” ready to share their stories and answer any questions. Librarians Victor Lawrence and Cristy Moran had learned about the organization through library circles and signed up on the Human Library site. This was their third year hosting the event, which had approximately 200 visitors, including eight classes of students and public library users. We sat down at each booth for an interactive learning experience. These are our takeaways from four of the “books” we checked out:

Best Buddies

We spoke with a woman with high functioning autism and ADHD who is one of the ambassadors of Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that fosters friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. The woman said she and other people with intellectual and developmental disabilities need friends, too, and urged people to not forget about them because they often feel excluded or isolated.  She said that the Best Buddies program enables people like her to find common interests, such as a book or a movie, with others which helps them feel included.

Lighthouse for the Blind:

We met two women with visual impairments who use the services of Lighthouse of Broward. Lighthouse of Broward offers free services for people who are blind or visually impaired. Services include skills training, job preparation, counseling, support groups and much more. We asked the women what schools can do to help students who are blind or visually impaired. They responded that schools should teach students how to be sensitive not only to those who are blind or visually impaired but to anyone with a disability or mental health issue. They said that people need not be afraid to talk and relate to those who are different. They spoke about how prejudice is a learned behavior and how dialogue is important for reducing it.

MSD Strong:

We spoke with two alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Parkland school shooting. One of the women mentioned how bullying is an issue in the schools, but she did not think the tragedy should be blamed on bullying. She stated that community engagement is one of the good things that arose from the tragedy. The women also discussed overcrowding and student safety.

Muslim Student Association:

The Muslim Student Association of Broward College is a student organization open to all students who have an interest in learning about Muslim culture or Islam. We talked with one of the young men manning the booth. He believes that open dialogue and education are needed for reducing Islamophobia.  He also said that when someone says something hurtful to him, he tries to see if the comment springs from ignorance or hate. If it arises from ignorance, he tries to educate them in a respectful way. If it comes from hate, he does not engage with them.

Common Threads

We noticed that many of the people we spoke with talked about common elements that are key to reducing prejudice and stereotypes. These elements included the need to foster respectful dialogue, inclusiveness, and sensitivity. Respectful dialogue can help foster a greater understanding of someone who may be different from you and can clear up misconceptions or stereotypes about them. Inclusiveness and sensitivity can help those who are different feel less isolated and foster a greater sense of belonging in the community and can also reduce bullying.

Teacher Resources

Here are five editorially-selected lesson plans and resources to help reduce bullying, stereotypes, and prejudice in the classroom:

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Has your school or library held a Human Library? If so, let us know your experiences in the comments below or Tweet us at #ProQuest!