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Loosening the leaves of prejudice in the Human Library


TRUE STORIES The Human Library, ‘a place where real people are on loan to readers’, is coming to Castlebar.

Áine Ryan

IT is an old adage, isn’t it? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Nowadays, those covers are more often than not out there in the ether on Kindle, Nook or Kobo. But beyond the pages of a compelling thriller, a favourite tome, a thumb-leafed anthology, we still all have to read books and their characters in the real world.  
Of course, we read real people every time we interact across a shop counter, stand in an airport queue, cough and splutter in the waiting room of a  doctor’s surgery, sweat in the changing facilities at the local gym or order that last drink in a busy bar on a Saturday night.
For Debbie Beirne, the whole concept of the ‘Human Library’ offers a powerful method of getting people, communities, talking – having open dialogues – about things they may not normally talk about.
Along with Dr Mark Garavan, Breda Ruane and the local library service, she is organising a Human Library project in the County Library, Castlebar on June 13 next from 3pm to 7pm.
“You know when you go to your local library and you give in your card and go off to the shelves to choose a book? For this event, you will be given a brochure of Human Library titles and sent off to one of the tables to meet and read the ‘human book’,” Beirne explains.
“The hope is that by meeting and witnessing people on a more human level, and hearing their life experiences, these respectful conversations can positively change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards members of our community who are at risk of exclusion or marginalisation,” she continues.
“The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to ‘readers’. Take, for example, the fact that County Mayo was among the counties which returned a higher number of ‘No’ votes in the referendum on gay marriage.
“How many times did these people sit down with someone from the LGBT community and actually listen to their story, see them as human beings? Prejudice and racism has no place to go when you meet someone – witness them – on a human level and any differences between us as human beings becomes very minimal,” she continues.  
While the genesis for the upcoming Human Library event in Castlebar developed through a discussion about the number of suicides in County Mayo, Beirne explains that such innovative gatherings have a much broader spectrum than any individual social problem.  
“It is very important to create spaces where people can connect with each other and break down barriers, fears, misplaced misconceptions. Where does that really happen these days? The idea of being connected through social media is anomalous. Because nothing is effectively filtered, the communications can propagate fear,” she observes.
While social media is a projection of the self ‘out there’, communication through the Human Library is ‘here’, earthed and real, Beirne argues.
This event is open to anyone who has felt ‘isolated within society’ for a myriad of reasons. Interested participants are invited to email before May 21 next.

For further information, phone the library directly on 094 90 2444, Debbie at 087 6326610 or Breda at 0877738312. All ‘books’ must go through an interview process and will be screened for suitability.

What is the Human Library?
A worldwide movement, the Human Library is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers. A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.
Established in 2000 in Copenhagen, the first Human Library or ‘Menneskebiblioteket’ event was open for four days and featured over 50 different titles. More than 1,000 readers participated, ‘leaving books, librarians, organisers and readers stunned’ at its impact.


Book titles
• Muslim man
• Priest critical of the Catholic church
• Mother with brain-injured son
• Traveller man
• Family of suicide victim
• Gay woman  
• Refugee