With the isolation of the pandemic, I think people are craving meaningful conversations,” says Jennifer Korn, Pleasant Ridge Library Branch Manager. “It’s [also] really easy for people to become polarized, and that has resulted in thick walls being thrown up.”
All it takes is a conversation to build community. In today’s world, the opportunities for those meaningful conversations are few and far between. The Human Library initiative offers those chances again, and volunteers are working toward breaking down the walls we’ve built.
The first Human Library was created in 2000 with the simple mission “unjudge someone,” and 22 years later the organization has published “books” in over 85 countries on six continents. However, these books are not the familiar, paper-bound objects that come to mind. Human Library books are volunteers—people who have personal experiences on a given topic and represent a group that is often subject to discrimination or prejudices.
Published books on the Human Library website include “Alcoholic,” “HIV+,” “Homeless,” and “Refugee.” The organization creates a safe space where dialogue about otherwise taboo topics can take place, all in the name of building connections and community.
The Pleasant Ridge branch of the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library (CHPL) partnered with its across-the-street neighbor, Community Happens Here, to apply to host a Human Library event in 2021. After a lengthy application process and an interview with the organization, the library was chosen to host a Human Library.
The bookshelf for the Human Library event is now at 25 books, including books that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, those who have made untraditional career choices, and those representing various sides of hot-button political topics.
“[We are] encouraging people to have open-minded conversations and connections with others,” says Korn. “Maybe [in the future] they’ll be reading something online or on the news and feel their judgement coming out, but then pause and remember there’s a human behind it.”
The event will take place on November 12 at the All Saints Episcopal Church—around the corner from the Pleasant Ridge Library—and will run as an open house; attendees will be able to check out a book for a 30-minute conversation and then can choose to check out another book. The Human Library is open to high school juniors and seniors up to adults.
“I have a suspicion that there are people in the world who want to talk to each other and broaden their horizons, but they don’t know how,” says Joe Wessels, CHPL Content Specialist. “How do I engage somebody who is different than I am without offending them?”
The Human Library aims to be the place to do just that. The books know they will be engaging in tough conversations, but they’ve volunteered their time because they believe in the mission.
CHPL is a source of information for the Cincinnati community, and hosting this event will further its ability to provide that information and answer questions. Korn says the library wants this event to be a warm and welcoming environment for those who are curious.
“There’s a lack of opportunity to positively engage with people who may have different experiences and beliefs than us,” says Korn. “We really hope that somebody walks in, they read a couple of books and they end up talking to somebody that they would have never talked to in their life.”
CHPL is also partnering with the Cincinnati Coalition Against Hate to host this event, and it will be kicking off their United Against Hate Week.
This may be the first ever Human Library event in the Greater Cincinnati area, but Korn hopes it won’t be the last. Other library branches have indicated their interest in hosting the event again in the future, and they hope libraries in other locations do so, too.
“We want this to not just be a one-time thing, but the start of a broader [movement] and the start of more community building,” says Korn.
While CHPL is no longer looking for volunteer books, they are open to volunteers to help facilitate the event. Those interested can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Community Happens Here at (513) 666-1209.