Human Libraries: Readers’ Advisory of Real People

Photo courtesy of CBC Vancouver

Photo courtesy of CBC Vancouver

Many library patrons don’t read books. They may not read magazines or newspapers. Many people just don’t consider themselves “readers.” How do we find reading materials that will engage them? Is it our job to “change their minds?” I ask myself these questions when considering some of my friends who have no interest in reading. As both their friend and also a librarian, I feel that I have failed them by being unable to pair them with the perfect reading material. Reading opens us up to understanding other people and ourselves, to feeling new emotions, imagining new experiences, and learning new information.

Another way to experience the benefits of reading is to communicate with actual people. My case in point is that many “non-readers” are more than happy to “read” other people as evidenced by the international success of Human Library programs. A human library, according to, “is an innovative method designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding [in which] visitors to a Human Library are given the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan”; this latter group being extremely varied in age, sex and cultural background.”

“The Human Library enables groups to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner. It is a concrete, easily transferable and affordable way of promoting tolerance and understanding.”

Since a youth organization called “Stop the Violence” coordinated the Human Library Project at the Roskilde Music Festival in Copenhagen in 2000, Human Library projects have sprung up around the world including in British Columbia. Fraser Valley Regional Library, Vancouver Public Library, Burnaby Central Secondary School, Coquitlam Public Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, Douglas College, Surrey Libraries, and Moscrop Secondary School are among the BC organizers of Human Libraries (apologies to any that I may have missed).

Surrey Libraries hosted two Human Libraries in 2011 and 2012, and is pairing up with CBC Vancouver to host one on January 26, 2013 from 11-3pm at City Centre Library in Surrey. “Readers” will have the opportunity to chat one-on-one with a variety of Human Books to discuss their experiences, ideas, and feelings. The Human Books’ stories are intriguing and inspirational. Some of the Human Books on loan will be:

Surrey’s first female firefighter
former neo-nazi
Surrey coroner
ex-gang member
Surrey RCMP officer-former bullying victim
Cathy Minty, female plumber
female transgender
Sikh woman in turban
Senator Yonah Martin (Coquitlam)
Semiahmoo First Nations rep
Little person (dwarfism) 16 year old para-swimmer

Perhaps one of these Human Books sounds like the perfect “read” for someone you know? Let’s see if Readers’ Advisory can extend its definition…

Registration for the Human Library program will begin shortly.


3 thoughts on “Human Libraries: Readers’ Advisory of Real People

  1. Wendy Wright

    I would like to use Human Books in a scavenger hunt program to learn more about a community, or a historical event. Human Books could be strategically located where events they witnessed occurred. Human Books could give guided tours of significant buildings or outdoor sites, interpret archival materials for readers, or share their experiences and mementos with children and adults.

    Human Books strike me as a particularly powerful way to draw generations together.

    Thank you for this blog entry — I’ve had this program idea idea for awhile, but thought it was too “out there”. Perhaps now I’ll try it!

    1. gllibrarian Post author

      Hi Wendy,

      Those sounds like some excellent programming ideas! I definitely think you should pursue your ideas to incorporate human books into tours and scavenger events. Be sure to check out for the best tips to get started on hosting a Human Library event. Thanks for the comment.

  2. gllibrarian Post author

    Tune in to the CBC show On The Coast today and tomorrow to hear live online chats with two of the human books:

    Ex-gang member/ex-convict book Jan. 16 – on the air at 5:40pm with Stephen Quinn, who will then give directions on how to chat live with our guest, following that interview.

    Transsexual woman book.
    Jan. 17 – on the air at 5:40pm with Stephen Quinn


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