20 April 2011

LIKE 24: Human Library

Apparently it was my idea to do a LIKE meeting on Human Library so it's just as well that I went along.

I vaguely recall making the suggestion a year or so ago. I made it because I had just heard about it and wanted to learn more. In all other respects I was a Human Library novice, just like most of the people collected in the upstairs room of The Crown Tavern, Clerkenwell for a LIKE meeting on an unusually balmy April evening.

Our guide for the evening was Linda Constable, Chair of CILIP Libraries Change Lives and CILIP Community Services Group.

Once the LIKEians were assembled, watered and settled, Linda introduced us to the Human Library concept by explaining that it was about talking and chatting and discovering new things. This got a warm reception as this is exactly what LIKE is about too.

The Human Library adds structure around person-to-person sharing with clearly defined roles and rules for both the book and the reader.

These rules are simple but very useful. The first rule on both sides is to treat the other with respect. This sets the tone and the expectations; the main flow of information may be from book to reader but the relationship is peer to peer.

Another rule allows a book to refuse to answer a question that they are uncomfortable with and having this rule in place encourages more people to become books safe in the knowledge that they can control what it is they divulge about themselves. This is not an interview or an interrogation.

There are also familiar processes around how books and readers engage with each other, for example, a reader is able to withdraw a book for a defined period or to make a future reservation for one. This bought back fond memories of library cards to the seasoned librarians in the room, of which there were quite a few.

Most of the examples Linda gave us of Human Libraries were about sharing experiences either just to raise awareness, e.g. of cultural differences, or to address specific issues, e.g. alcoholism. In these cases the books were autobiographies but other types of books can be used, e.g. a reference book on a specific topic.

Once the concept and rules had been explained it was our turn.

Despite not knowing what a Human Book was beforehand I had volunteered to be one with the catchy title of Comics are for Grown-ups too.

Other books were on topics like flamenco dancing, travel, marathon running (Marja was wearing her London Marathon medal with justified pride), rock climbing and on-line gaming - LIKE is a diverse bunch!

Being a book worked out better that I expected. Andrew, Gail and Hanna all wanted to read me and I had good conversations with all of them. These conversations worked better than some of the similar speed-networking style ones that I've had as the original subject was more fully defined as was the purpose of the conversation, and there was more time allowed so we could get to meaningful detail.

A real plus was discovering that Gail was looking to bring a comic book artist to her school and I was happy to confirm that somebody I know does this very well. Kev owes me a beer next time we meet!

The book reading was harshly curtailed by the arrival of food and more drinks and we returned to our tables and to our normal networking mode. Everybody that I spoke to had found the session interesting, as a book or a reader, and many of us were starting to explore ideas of how we could use the concept ourselves.

And things got even better when I grabbed a moment with Linda and discovered that she works for Dorset County Library for who I wrote some computer programs when I started work in 1978! For the purist, these were written in Cobol and ran on an ICL 1904S mainframe running George IV.

As always, the conversations carried on until a few shocked looks at watches made us realise how late it was and prised us out of our comfort and in to the world of bustling buses, tubes and trains.

Another very successful LIKE evening where I learnt something of real use and had fun too. That's why I keep going.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the sound of this human library...where is this happening at the mo'?


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