Human Library: making lives open books
The subjects in Human Library opened up for people to 'read'. HARIZ BAHARUDIN (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to some individuals who made the event possible
Reading a book is simple - just flip it open and start.
But a human book?
Not so easy, says Ms Kelly Ann Zainal, with a laugh.
She is the project leader of the Human Library event held last month at The Red Box in Somerset.
The 27-year-old mental health researcher tells The New Paper on Sunday: "The books have to be quite open when the participants start asking questions.
"We always made sure that the books knew what they were in for."
This library is not a quiet one. And the books are people.
The buzz of conversation fills the air as participants borrow the time of human books to find out about their lives.
Each session lasts for around 30 minutes, and the number of people who can borrow a book is capped at six at a time, to not overwhelm the books.
Last month's event was the largest edition of the Human Library here and saw more than 400 participants speaking to 48 books from all walks of life in the one-day event.
These included an ex-convict, a transgender woman who used to be a sex worker and someone suffering from an auto-immune disorder.
"Everyone faces discrimination, and everyone has their own story to tell, so we wanted to have a diverse range of books that people could choose from," says Ms Zainal.
Started in Denmark about 16 years ago, the Human Library has surged in popularity and has been held in more than 60 countries.
The event serves as a platform to start conversations to challenge stereotypes, in the hope of allowing participants to better understand the human books.
Ms Zainal was inspired to organise one here after attending a Human Library event last year at the Singapore Management University.
"It struck me how it was a good vehicle to have an open and honest conversation.
"I left the event a more educated person, and I felt more people would stand to gain from such an event," she says.
She is quick to credit the backing of a great team with her. She co-organised the event with a committee consisting of three friends and more than 100 people who volunteered to help.
Putting together a diverse library was a big undertaking, but she says it was a "team effort".
Ms Zainal says: "It started with us reaching out to personal contacts and different organisations.
"Thanks to everyone's help, the word spread. Soon people started contacting us."
According to Ms Zainal, the committee accommodated as many books as they could and most who applied were selected.
She says: "Everyone has faced some form of discrimination, and if they wanted to talk about it, why not?"
For those who feel left out by missing the Human Library event, fret not,
The next edition is "well underway" and will likely be held early next year, says Ms Zainal.
"We were encouraged by the response we got, and we're preparing for the next event which will happen soon," she says.
Participants of the Human Library told TNPS they were impressed with the event.
Miss Charmaine Yeo, 23, an associate in a marketing agency, called it an "enlightening experience".
Says Miss Yeo: "We normally don't have access to these people, and it was helpful to hear from them.
"Communication breeds empathy and with empathy, we get to help one another.
"There were things I never realised about these people."
Undergraduate Caleb Yang, who is in his 20s, says the event gave him a "different perspective" that he would not have had access to.
Mr Yang says: "Through sharing their experiences, I got to shape my opinions about these people. Normally I wouldn't get the chance to talk to some of them, so it was a really good experience.
"I can't wait for the next one."