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The Human Library reminds us not to judge a book by its cover

I’ve always been bookish, but last Saturday, I became one: I was a human book at Aye Write!, The Mitchell Library’s amazing book festival. I joined the Human Library for the day.

It works like this: readers go up to the lending desk and choose a book title. A library “matchmaker” then finds the right book (who is usually out back having a tea and biscuit with other books), and sits the two down for a friendly conversation.

The titles were immensely diverse: I was a feminist book, but there were also transgender books, a book living with disability, another living with a sex offender, there was an equal marriage campaigner book, a gay book, and a Scottish Muslim book just to name some of the interesting titles to be explored. Readers attending the Aye Write! Festival poured in, eager to get to know the real people behind the labels.

At its heart, the Human Library is a safe place to address stereotypes and prejudices through conversation. Over the course of a thirty-minute chat, reader and book usually find they have more in common than they thought and readers get their burning questions answered. Our equal marriage book told me that she has had readers quiz her about lesbianism because they were too shy to ask their lesbian friends.

Many books I met that day had participated in Human Libraries in the past, and, as the afternoon wore on, I came to understand the attraction. The Human Library provides a respectful platform where books can express who they really are to people who would otherwise rely on uninformed rhetoric or opinion fed to them via the media or other sources. But these readers are also open to being enlightened. Over the course of a conversation, you can actually see shifts in attitudes and that is an astonishing thing.

I went along because so much of Amnesty International’s work in human rights is about helping people to care about others – their lives, the challenges they face because, regardless of labels, human rights are for all of us.

As a Human Library book, I learned to talk to others about important issues and to trust them to listen and understand. I was surprised at my initial prejudice towards readers, never mind their preconceptions about me. I realised that in my everyday interactions, I often shy away from potentially fruitful discussion because I don’t think a certain type of person will be open to what I have to say. Every reader was a pleasant surprise.

More Human Libraries are on the way – find our more here.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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