Understanding the basic principles of the Human Libraries, you can become an excellent reader

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Understanding the basic principles of the Human Libraries, you can become an excellent reader

The Human Libraries methodology is a communication methodology that builds bridges between  people  from  different  backgrounds  with  diverse  ideas  and  worldviews,  promoting dialogue, empathy, and understanding.

In a Human Library event, participants become Readers of Human Books who volunteer to share their personal stories and experiences. The goal is to create a safe space for open and respectful dialogue, where people can challenge their stereotypes and broaden their perspectives, developing a deeper sense of connection with others.

In this Training Course, Youth workers from six organizations, representing Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey came together in Setúbal, Portugal, with the aim of enhancing their skills in this methodology within the specific framework of Migrant Integration. Migrants are facing challenges of inclusion and discrimination all around the world. At the same time living in a global and an interconnected world it is easier than ever to learn about and engage in different cultures and share stories.

Therefore, the goal of this project is to apply storytelling as a powerful tool to foster integration and mutual recognition. By sharing stories, we build bridges between people from diverse backgrounds. Human libraries are not solely about sharing stories but also about active listening. It’s essential that listeners are able to actively engage in a dialogue with the story teller. This demands that the storytelling takes place in a safe space. This somewhat simple but nevertheless powerful method can create more empathy and greater social cohesion. Ultimately this will pave the way for better integration of minorities, enhance inclusion and prevent discrimination.

Description of activities

In order to properly prepare us for our roles as librarians, the project introduced us to a variety of activities, which were meant to bring us in touch with our own stories, assumptions and prejudices and enhance our storytelling capabilities. This was important for us to understand both how assumptions and prejudice shut down the opportunity for conversation and understanding, but also how we as librarians can support people developing their own stories through the creation of safe spaces, active listening and storytelling techniques.

While this was partly done through self-reflective exercises, much of our personal story development was intrinsically connected to the encounters we had with other participants’ stories. At one point we had to sit down in pairs and listen to each others’ stories – exploring everything from each others’ first memories and our proudest accomplishments to how we handle failure. In the middle of this exchange, we were surprised at the things that lay beneath the surface of a person. Simultaneously, common ground and unexpected connections were found across cultures and between lives that would otherwise have appeared divergent.

Impact on Participants

Participants experienced significant positive impacts, notably an increase in empathy. By engaging directly with “Books”, individuals sharing their life stories, participants gained a deeper understanding and empathy for diverse human experiences. They also became more aware of the challenges faced by marginalized communities and the importance of inclusivity, not just in education but also in a broader scope of social interactions. Feedback from participants highlighted the role of this approach in promoting active public participation, listening skills and personal growth.

Moreover, the Human Libraries methodology served as a catalyst for action, inspiring many participants to undertake similar initiatives in their own communities and workplaces. This demonstrates the potential for the methodology to be adopted more widely and adapted to different contexts, signaling its capacity to drive community-led change.

After eight days of training, participants not only became more aware of their biases and prejudices but also developed meaningful interpersonal connections. This intensive period allowed them to explore their own views while gaining a better understanding of their peers’ experiences, fostering self-awareness and mutual respect within the group.

From now on, the main goal is for these empowered individuals to apply what they learned about Human Libraries in their own contexts, creating more empathy-rich environments and fostering positive social change. They will be doing so by implementing 5 Human Libraries in each country so be sure to keep updated on the platform contents to discover and follow how these activities unfold in the future.

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