The Human Library Project is an international equalities movement that seeks to challenge prejudice and discrimination by encouraging conversation. It connects communities and gathers momentum internationally with now a Human Library in over 70 countries across the world.
Human Libraries celebrate differences and encourage a better understanding of people who come from varied cultural and lifestyle backgrounds. The initiative offers an important space for challenging implicit attitudes and unconscious bias.
On 3 December, colleagues from the Department of Psychology as well as from the Disability Learning Support and the Libraries teams at the University of Westminster collaborated to host a successful Human Library event, which coincided with The International Day of Disabilities. Staff and students from across the University participated in one of two sessions.
Participants chose whether to be a ‘book’ or a ‘borrower’, and were briefed on their role prior to the session. For ‘books’, making the book title was a creative and reflective process and served as a trigger for conversation with the human ‘borrower’. Using attentive listening and respectful conversation, ‘books’ and ‘borrowers’ explored their experiences of working and studying at the University with a disability.
Feedback for this initiative, which has now run for the third year at the University, was overwhelmingly positive, with an unanimous call from volunteers requesting for a longer time for conversations. Specifically, a ‘book’ said: “As a ‘book’, it was very engaging. The ‘borrower’ was listening actively and was curious about my disability. It was very uplifting and interactive. I felt rejuvenated.”
One of the borrowers commented: “I looked forward to the experience. I felt connected and privileged. The book was eloquent and comfortable to talk to. I felt the talk helped in putting my own experiences in place. I was not the only one in the dark. Mental ill health can happen to anyone.”
Deborah Husbands, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and organiser of the Human Library event, said: “I continue to be amazed at the power of a simple process to connect people in such powerful ways. This is what inclusion looks like, and the book titles speak for themselves.”