EVANSTON, IL – For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, The Human Library returns to the Evanston Public Library this Sunday, April 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. The program is part of the Human Library movement that began in Copenhagen in 2002, and offers patrons a way to engage in meaningful conversations to challenge their own biases and “unjudge someone.” Human Library events are held around the world, and started at the Evanston Public Library in 2018 to help dismantle prejudices by bringing people into conversation with others whom they might not normally get to know.
Visitors, or “Readers,” at the Human Library will be able to “check out” a collection of volunteer “Books,” people who hold different identities or have unique life experiences of prejudice or discrimination, and have up to 30 minutes of conversation time. Each “Book” has provided a short biography and three questions designed to break the ice and generate dialogue.
Librarian Julie Rand, who has helped organize The Human Library since it started at EPL, said that a simple conversation with someone you don’t know can be an incredible learning opportunity.
“Those human connections are so powerful,” Rand said. “A lot of discrimination is sort of like scales before your eyes, and when you meet with someone those scales fall away, because how can you deny this person their humanity when you’re sitting across the table from them and talking to them?”
Mary Kling, EPL’s volunteer coordinator, who helps organize the program with Rand, agreed. Everyday assumptions and biases are common — most of us judge people we see on the street, at the Library, on public transportation, and many other places, she said, and most of the time, there’s no truth to these judgments. But the harm they can cause is real.
The best way to overcome these biases is to get to know another person, she said. That’s where The Human Library comes in.
“Once the conversation takes place in a respectful way, some of those differences suddenly seem a little less important, and we find out that we’re more alike than different,” Kling said.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibit “The Bias Inside Us,” running at the Library through May 8, is a perfect complement to The Human Library, Rand said. Visitors can learn about the sociological and psychological roots of bias by exploring the exhibit. Then, they can bring those insights to their conversations with Books at The Human Library.
The Human Library means a lot to its organizers. Rand and Kling said they care a lot about this program, and have had wonderful experiences organizing it in the past. Many of the volunteer “Books” enjoy it too — several have returned to support the program multiple times.
It hasn’t all been easy, Kling said, but helping make The Human Library a reality has been one of the most rewarding projects of her life.
“I was a little afraid of it in the beginning, just because I knew it was going to be such a daunting task,” she said. “But it’s just been worth every minute.”
About the Human Library
The Human Library will take place Sunday, April 24 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the third floor of the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue, Evanston. Families, as well as individual visitors, are welcome. Measures will be taken to ensure COVID safety: Some of the “Books” have requested that visitors speaking with them remain masked while others do not require masking. Registration is not required — just drop in! All ages are welcome but those under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
About ‘The Bias Inside Us’
The Human Library is being held in conjunction with “The Bias Inside Us,” a community engagement project from the Smithsonian, situated on the west side of the Main Library’s third floor. The project raises awareness about the social science and psychology of implicit bias, the impact of this bias and what people can do about it. Come to the Human Library, then check out the exhibit. Read more about the exhibit and the full event lineup here.