We’re only human

The Human Library
The Human Library allows ‘readers’ to choose human ‘books’ who will tell them their stories (University of the Fraser Valley)

Discover the library where you can hear strangers’ life stories, writes Bisi Oyekanmi

The Human Library is the concept of people becoming ‘books’ that can be loaned to ‘readers’ who want to hear their stories.

Developed in Copenhagen in 2000 as a project for a festival, it was created by Ronni Abergel and his brother Dany, plus colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen, and was a huge success with more than 1,000 readers over eight hours. The Human Library has since spread across all corners of the globe, from Botswana to Mumbai – via Colchester.

I first encountered it at a festival and had a wonderful conversation with a woman who had recently completed her cancer treatment. We spoke intimately about her experience and then moved on to places in the world we had visited and different challenges we had faced. It was the most wonderful 30 minutes and a highlight of the weekend. It stuck with me.

Fast forward a few years, and the opportunity to submit a project idea for the London Borough of Culture came up. I thought it would be wonderful to find a way to bring together the very many different communities in the area – and Human Library Waltham Forest was thus born!

I really hope residents will get to know each other, past the initial layers we all see. We are so much more than the labels we wear or are assigned, and I hope books and readers at the Human Library will make connections with each other and challenge some of their perceptions or assumptions. With these new perspectives I hope we can continue to make our communities welcoming and open to all.

I’m so excited by the wonderful stories that are coming through the registration portal. We will have a woman who used to bunk off school to open Liberace’s fan letters and later became the head of casting for the Royal Shakespeare Company; a French speaker who through tenacity and an unconventional route secured a successful career in accounting at the height of the recession; a child of a Catholic priest and nun; a neonatal nurse working in Nigeria; a resident who turned a disused shop window into a window gallery; a published author who left school unable to read; and a Tamil/Ghanian Greek god.

My ambition is that Human Library Waltham Forest lives on beyond 2019. I hope to see Human Library events forming a regular part of the local libraries events programme, perhaps with special themed events to tie in with global events.

Human Library Waltham Forest takes place on Saturday 27th April at Hale End Library, 4th May at South Chingford Community Library 18th May at Walthamstow Library, 1st June at Higham Hill Library, and 8th June at Leytonstone Library. Find out more:
Visit wfculture19.co.uk/events/human-library

You can also sign up to become a ‘book’ using the online form:
Visit tinyurl.com/yxoqmv64