As Pride Month continues (and Juneteenth is now recognized as an official holiday!), we’ve been considering even more ways to celebrate diversity and inclusion. It can be difficult sometimes to understand the nuances of what other people experience if we ourselves haven’t experienced that as well—or at least known someone who has. Even among the major categories that separate people, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sex, age, and disability, subcategories and subtle differences can make it difficult to truly empathize with our neighbors.
In an effort to break down those differences and foster a greater sense of community, we’d like to share with you today an organization that exemplifies this idea put into practice on a truly personal level: a nonprofit called the Human Library Organization (HLO).
The HLO has organized educational events at schools and libraries all over the world since their start in Denmark in 2000. At these events, the “books” are actually volunteers. Each human “book” represents a type of person who might be unfamiliar to many, or is marginalized in some way. By “checking out” one of these volunteers, patrons get to experience a personal, face-to-face conversation with someone different from them. By creating personal connections between real people, the HLO fosters the best kind of understanding.
Since their initial expansion to the U.S. in 2011, the Human Library has held events three times in Seattle, and four times in Vancouver—plus 200+ other events held throughout the rest of North America.
The range of “books” in the Human Library is pretty impressive. Their website, humanlibrary.org, features a person with ADHD, a convert to Islam, a homeless person, and a former alcoholic. These groups will be more familiar to some than to others, depending on who you are—but what’s important is that their faces get seen and their stories get heard.
While many of the represented groups belong to marginalized communities, others are just… something a little different. A former FBI agent, a polyamorous woman, and a man with a ton of body modifications have all spoken at past Human Library events.
What the Human Library understands so well is that people have different experiences—and that those experiences matters. You, too, have a unique experience, and that’s important to us. We care about our clients as individuals, and—as people who have ourselves personally experienced the harm of marginalization—we especially love when we’re able to help others who could someday be Human Library volunteers themselves. Diversity is a strength. Let’s keep celebrating it.