Reading a story tucked in the pages of a book while sitting somewhere alone encased in yourself sounds easy, but, have you ever thought about the stories coming to life and the books narrating their story in flesh?
The Human Library is an international organisation that first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 with the aim to break stereotypes and challenge prejudice against social contact among people. The term 'Human Library' sounds out of the norm and often raises the question, "How on earth does it even work?" Well, to answer the question, The Human Library works in a similar fashion to how a traditional library works. However, in this case, the library discourages silence and allows the reader to be a part of the story itself. The books are basically people with inspiring stories from all aspects of life putting their life up as a story for the readers to read (read 'hear').
On July 29, 2017, a bright and sunny Saturday, three youngsters; Upoma Rashid, Mushfiquzzaman Khan Apurbo and Rafsanul Hoque Hridoy launched the first ever Human Library in Bangladesh.
It was like any other Saturday here in Dhaka, but not for these three young people. After months of planning and dedication, the gates of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Bidyapeeth were finally open at 2:00 p.m., ready for readers to have their first go at The Human Library Dhaka. The books were up and ready at their tables, librarians steady at their positions, all the while waiting for a few visitors to peek in. "We were expecting only a hundred people at max," says Upoma to the Daily Star. "First came in a few, then a few more and then, a huge gush of people almost in no time. We, honestly, weren't expecting this huge of a response. I remember asking Rafsan if we could leave it at that and sneak out through the back door. We were that overwhelmed!"
With ten books on the table, almost three hundred readers in a queue and a handful of librarians volunteering on the floor, the day turned out to be a bigger success than initially anticipated. People, irrespective of age, gender, values, and spheres of life, gathered around to take in this new perspective of a library. "What surprised us is that, the visitors were very tolerant and co-operative throughout the entire process. They bore with us understanding that it was our first time organising something new like The Human Library," says Apurbo.
The Human Library works as a tool for people to open up and talk to each other while sharing their experiences. It is mostly a functional platform that literally defines the saying, 'Don't judge a book by its cover'. With a person sitting right infront of you, telling their story with emotions in their eyes while directly looking into yours, blind judgment does not come easy. One of the main goals of The Human Library is to break stereotypes and help people understand perspectives more easily.
Upon asking what they wish to establish in Bangladesh, particularly through The Human Library, the trio responded with "an increased level of tolerance" without even thinking twice. With a goal to host The Human Library every other month, they are already working on their next launch. Hosting an event that brings no monetary profit for both the organisers and the participants, The Human Library Dhaka team is truly dedicated to promoting their hopes of establishing tolerance in our strictly fenced society.
When asked, "Out of all the things you could've done, why this? What was in it for you?", Upoma replied, "Even being the quirky and outgoing person that I am, I always had a communication barrier between me and my surroundings when it came to expressing emotions. I, probably, still don't have the guts to speak out about what I feel but watching these people showcase their life story in such a manner leaves me wanting to be more like them and someday, maybe not today, but someday, I will be like them: more expressive and more vocal about myself."
In a world of unsolicited Facebook statuses with the thirst for 'likes' and Instagram posts of what we had for lunch, The Human Library is a reminder of reality and a solution to real problems. In a society of
"What will people think?" and judgment by appearance, The Human Library Dhaka is another stepping stone towards a more tolerant and accepting society.