Human Library challenges preconceptions

By Joseph Nichols, Staff Writer

As the snowflakes fell in droves outside, I sat perched on my chair, eagerly awaiting the story I was going to hear. A drag queen donning a glimmering rainbow dress and a wig that resembled the likes of Marie Antoinette sat before me.

The Human Library was founded in Denmark by author Ronnie Abergel, and its mission “aims to address people’s prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet… The organization uses a library analogy of lending people rather than books.”

The Human Library has since expanded across 85 countries in its 22-year lifespan, and it found a new station in the Pleasant Ridge Library Branch. On Saturday, members of the community joined the Human Library as “readers.”  Upon walking into the library, suspension of disbelief begins as readers are met with “librarians,” representatives with The Human Library.  Readers then look at a sign on which “titles” are available to read and which ones are checked out.

In my time at the event, the titles I read were Drag Queen, Furry, Priest, Mystic and Black. Each person told me how their identity shaped who they are today and worked with me to realize preconceptions that I held. They were very responsive to my questions and eager to help expand my worldview. 

The Human Library invited people to have open conversations with people with unique life experiences, such as drag queen PH Dee (above).

After brief introductions, a 30-minute conversation ensues.  Both readers and titles are given a few brief questions in case one party runs aground and requires help with specific questions to ask. After 25 minutes, a librarian approaches the reader and their title and informs them that there are five minutes left. The rest of the time is uninterrupted for readers to listen to their title’s perspective and to challenge their own preconceptions. The titles informed me that part of what makes up who they are as a person needs to be shared with others.

The readers and titles ranged substantially, with both young children accompanied by parents as well as adults taking part in the event. It was the first human library event held at the Pleasant Ridge venue, but multiple librarians expressed interest in broadening The Human Library to other libraries across the city to draw in even more members of the Cincinnati community.

 “For me, the big point for today would be that there are not many spaces for people to grow in empathy,” a librarian said. “This is a perfect place for people to get a fresh perspective and flex their empathy muscles.”

The Human Library does not have any more concrete plans in place to open again in Cincinnati, but I hope that others, like myself, can live this experience and discover a newfound perspective on a variety of people’s identities that challenges our own implicit biases.