#BlogSquad2018, OTalk

RCOT 2018. Blog 11. Learning in a Human Library: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover!

Presenters: Catherine McNulty & Chris Wood, Social Change community group Lincolnshire and Sheffield Hallam University.

One of the last presentations on the last day at the Occupation station at #RCOT18

If I had to choose only one word it would be FANTASTIC!! All occupational Therapists need to know about this concept that fits beautifully with our core principles and focuses on capturing the human story without it feeling like you are being assessed, treated or put under the spot light. It is an excellent approach to facilitate understanding. Enabling people to learn from each other and promote empowerment.

Human Library’s originated in Copenhagen, Denmark following a tragic violent incident where a young man was attacked with a knife at a music festival. The root cause was tracked back to prejudice and discrimination.

Menneskebiblioket means ‘Human Library’. It has been a very successful movement and its trademarked concept spread globally earning recognition as an international inequalities movement.  It is successfully addressing barriers and enabling people to not only get their views heard but learn from each other, developing understanding, compassion and finding common ground.

The Hearing Voices group in Sleaford learned of the Human Library movement and identified a need within their Hearing Voices Social Change group to facilitate conversations that did not feel pressured, negative, and anxiety provoking or focused on vulnerabilities. The group decided on a gentler perspective where the focus was not purely on discrimination or prejudice but facilitated conversations.

Catherine and Chris were engaging and fun. They explained how a Human Library works and brought it alive in the space. Within a few minutes the participants in the room were encouraged to take part and grab a badge that said one of the following:


Book. Choose story about you, your life, your experiences, wishes, fears anything you wish, write the title on a piece of paper and brief synopsis. Once a reader chooses your book you answer the questions of the reader.



Librarians.The librarians put the papers on a metaphoric book shelf and once the reader has chosen a story they sign it out and introduce you to the ‘human book’, they time keep as the maximum book loan is 15 mins.


Readers. Read the synopsis and choose a book to read, once introduced to a human book they ask questions or share what interested them about the book.


Group rules

Books must be treated with respect. They do not have to answer questions and can end a conversation if they wish.

15 mins is kept and there is no opportunity to extend or renew.

The Librarians facilitate time and guidelines and rights of the readers and books.

Similar to standard library there are a selection of books on offer.

Once we all had decided which role we wanted to try and briefly prepared, Chris read a poem written especially for Human Library movements by the poet by John Welsh 2016,


Silence read the poster

Quiet was the command

Hush the words whispered

Study, read, understand

But now a new library has opened

Where words are said out loud

Talking, Living, human books

And vocal readers allowed

Come to Human books

And vocal readers allowed

Come to Human Library

Have stories all explained

Know from your close engagement

That understanding will be gained

The session was lively and engaging I had a go at being a book and a reader. It is incredible the flow and ease of the conversation and I was surprised by some of the things I said while talking about my book ‘The leaf’ and reading a colleagues book of returning to her home town in Ireland. Discussions were filled with laughter, support, sharing, encouragement and empathy.

The feedback was extremely positive, see the photographs of some of these.

In keeping with the fun and engaging theme of the session it was finished with a song

I’ll Tell Me Ma – The Belle of Belfast City


The concept is so transferable while I sat there I got excited about the potential of this approach with an intergenerational approach to address negative stigma on ageing or  cultures.

Thank you Catherine, Chris and facilitators for an inspiring and fun afternoon.

For further information look at the website or the UK twitter site.

www.humanlibrary.orgor twitter #HumanLibraryUK (is in its early formation)

Written by Marie Barstow. @mrsbaistow

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