The Human Library: a digital opportunity for human encounters in a lockdown world

Is lockdown limiting your experiences? Are you meeting the same people, day in, day out? Or maybe not meeting anyone at all! you Giles Penman invites you to a special digital event called the Human Library to open your mind and meet different people from the diverse University of Warwick community.    

So, lockdown has been difficult. I think it is fair to say that, during the last year, we have all been through challenging times as doctoral researchers because of the COVID public health emergency and the attendant lockdown periods. We have not attended many in-person conferences, or been able to visit libraries, archives, labs or museums as often as we would have liked. This has made progressing with research demanding. And, to cap it all off, we have often had to be away from our families, friends, and partners for long periods. This enforced isolation has made this year a difficult one to endure.

As part of this prolonged isolation, we have spent most of the last few months away from the university campus. This means we have not met the rich tapestry that represents our university community. We are a diverse group of individuals who call Warwick our research base. But, without encountering this diversity, we can become closed minded, however unintentionally.

No library, no networking, and no diverse company. It is a bleak picture, isn’t it? 2020 is probably a year many of us would like to forget.

But there is an alternative. The Human Library offers a platform for encountering and experiencing this diversity once again. On 9th December the Postgraduate Engagement Team will host an event called the Human Library. This an event which began in Denmark, and is designed to allow people to come together in the safe public space of a library setting to learn more about the experiences of those who have faced stigma and prejudice. Visitors or ‘Readers’ are assigned participants or ‘books’ who have faced prejudice in the past for who they are. The specific personal characteristic each book wishes to discuss with the visitor/reader is reflected in their title. The 30-minute conversations between book and reader will open minds to different perspectives. They will also bring about tolerance of different points of view and a realization of the great many human experiences we all share, although we may appear different. 

I must declare that I have attended the Human Library events at the Warwick Library as a ‘book’ in the past, and found it thoroughly rewarding. Every occasion has been a truly eye-opening experience for me. I was able to challenge the pre-conceptions others may have, and to learn about the prejudices that readers carry around with them into their everyday lives. It is a really intriguing forum for human encounters, and it is not to be missed!

But, in the current socially-distanced reality, the Human Library event will be held virtually for the first time at the University of Warwick.

 Zoom and MS Teams have provided an innovative digital solution. Over recent months, with these and other software applications, we have attended meetings and conferences over the internet. Through these digital portals, we have been able to share our research ideas, successes, failures and advice with colleagues, friends, and family alike. We have laughed, learnt, celebrated, and commiserated together with each other despite our distance from each other. The pandemic has not constrained us. It has brought us together. Once, we would have struggled to arrange international meetings and conferences, where every speaker and attendee could join in. But now, anyone and everyone, can join academic discussions and social events wherever they are in the world. Now, the vast gulfs of time-zones and geography have collapsed. We are, arguably, better connected now than ever before. This surely must be a positive consequence of such a dark period in recent global history.

Therefore, if you would like to attend the online Human Library event on 9th December as a reader, do send an email to humanlibrary@warwick.ac.uk. And look out for the Teams and Zoom links for the event. You will not be disappointed!  

Do let us know about your experiences of the Human Library. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Giles

Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics.

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