Free Press Journal

Experience at a human library: Time to turn a page


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After witnessing a unique experience at a human library, Vibha Singh wants others to follow suit

In our childhood the fantastic stories and expansive ideas in books made us imagine the impossible and opened up great possibilities. Most of us visited a library in a hope to get lost in a story or be transported into someone else’s life and learn important lessons. But what happens when the characters from these books sit before us and share their experiences, thoughts and vision.

Human library offers you this opportunity as their belief is that stories are much better shared when they come from the source. Here instead of borrowing a book, you borrow a human being for 20 minutes and hear their story, dispelling prejudices and leaving the reader with a wider perspective. Fascinated with the idea Andaleeb Qureshi, initiated the concept in Mumbai by creating a personal dialogue between a ‘book’ and a ‘reader’ to challenge stereotypes.

A living library

The concept started out of Copenhagen, Denmark where Ronnie Abergel aimed at breaking notions about the society’s marginalised communities by the way of conversation. It works as a ‘book’ which can talk back and answer any question the reader might have pertaining to the story, hence helping them to absorb the material with greater depth.  Quershi, founder, human library of Mumbai chapter says, “It is a global social project that promotes humanity and social acceptance of people regardless of their backgrounds, profiles and the tags our society places on them. It follows a concept of any library we have ever been to. We just replace paper books with human books, who share their real life experience – no scripts just real words and emotions.  Readers walk in to the venue and borrow a book that attracts their attention.”

Also, the group recommends books to readers about the topic where limited or no information is available. Once the reader borrows a human book with the help of a librarian, the reading session lasts for up to 40 minutes. In the conversation, there is a narration by book about their life around prejudices they have lived through. After the session there is an open dialogue between the book and the reader. This exercise is to allow a free exchange of thoughts so as to help the readers know a greater deal about the prejudices. The prime objective behind the project is tolerance and respect and the basic principle of learning in the process is not to judge a book by its cover.

Making a difference

What is most encouraging about the human library is that it allows the readers the space to directly confront their prejudices by choosing a subject they don’t understand. Through listening to the experiences of the books, the reader is able to connect to its subjects in a deeply personal way because these books say a lot more inside than their cover outside. And there is no pin drop silence. One of the readers, Yuvraj Torne, avid bike rider and social worker talking about his experience says, “I did my research to understand what could it be, and how do they function with all these questions we decided to reach human library. Here,  I have met people from different fields, people who quit their jobs as they were content with their past routing, transgenders who shared the experience and the challenges they had to face and the support they received from family and friends.”

Creating togetherness

For most of the readers it has been an enriching journey as they get an opportunity to sit across a stranger and know them at such deep levels. Quershi said, “Every human book that we have come across has left a lifelong imprint on my soul, which is so beautiful. I have understood the meaning of togetherness and empathy. Urban lifestyle can make one feel lonely too, but it is such encounters with living real life stories that I feel the real growth and courage.”

Challenge it

Other learning lesson for readers is to follow their heart and passion. Girja Jalam, another reader says, “I am a struggler since childhood and taking care of my family since I was 11. My mom and I have been abused and been hit by my dad. Taking a stand against violence is what makes a difference to a reader. My experience to be part of human library made me even stronger as a person to be want you want to be and follow you heart.”

Want to be a book?

The ‘books’ or people chosen to be part of the library are the one who had different experiences and have been the subject of some sort of prejudice or discrimination in society. The titles of ‘books’ are not based on the names of the people but on the subject matter they will narrate.

Choose the title from the catalogue

The Burning Ice

Would you believe if you were told that women molest too? Growing up in an ultra-conservative background didn’t help either. When the bright mind needed a pillar to hold onto, he was pushed to his misfortunes around his birth. He shrugged it off, turning every stone to diamond, moving past from darkness to life.

Born in a Brothel!

As the sun sets, she runs to her shelter. A girl who lived through the visions of trade of Kamathipura. Get to know her childhood, whose life is all but a combination of fate and fight against it.

My cancer is me!

Have you heard of someone ‘battling cancer’? Doesn’t it make us feel that the victim is the only soldier in the war… Meet the book, a fine lady in the second innings of her life who throws light on the fact that the war isn’t against the ‘disease’ perse as much as it is against one’s own rigid mind-set and lifestyle. Know her story, her journey about transformation.

Broken Bridges

One event breaks a family apart. Thirty years is a long time to spend asking, Why? Now the more important question is: where do I go from here? Here is the story of a life healed, a bridge, once broken, that once again stands strong.


A child who found her herself alone in a room, most of the times; quiet to all that was happening around. One day she held onto the glimpses of light and moved, brushing aside the only life she witnessed, to bring her daughters a life she never knew. Hear her life story, as she narrates it in simple and honest words.