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Human Library

Borrowing people instead of books to challenge your preconceptions and beliefs

Photo of Kate Rushton
8 11

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The human library is an international movement where people can 'borrow' people they would not normally meet and have a dialogue with them. 

There are local 'chapters' who hold events where you can borrow people who are stigmatized e.g.  a political refugee in the UK. 

I have attached a video of an example of a Human Library event. 

I have mentioned the Human Library a few times but I decided to write a post about the Human Library after I realized that I completed a final year project on a medical condition without ever meeting someone who had the condition or anyone treating someone with that condition. 

I attended several lectures about environmental justice. If I was studying it today, instead of reading about Exxon Valdez or Brent Spa, maybe I could learn from the perspective of the people involved in current issues around the world today e.g. the conflict between the Sami and Britain's Beowulf Mining over an iron ore mining project in the north of Sweden from the perspective of the Sami, other locals, the Swedish government, Beowulf Mining and shareholders in the company, and buyers of iron ore. 

I first became aware of the Human Library from Melita Lumanto post here - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/research/human-library/

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I am the Community Guide for this challenge.

I have studied at Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds University in the UK and graduated with qualifications in Biochemistry, Toxicology, and Environmental Management. I have held a number of jobs including being a TEFL teacher and energy analyst. I love to learn new skills and loathe stagnation.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How can Higher Education help people challenge their preconceptions by exposing them to the people they have preconceptions about?

How can Higher Education use people to bring the learning material 'to life' and make it more relevant?

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Photo of Madiha Ahmed

Hi Katie,

This concept of Human Library is so interesting.

I believe this will work well in areas where there are refugees or immigrants from different parts of the world. It may work in USA.

This kind of learning will -
*be interesting and interactive as students will have access to a human being who can explain,demonstrate and feedback can be generated instantly.
*include diverse learning and teaching methods because people from different regions may have varying methods. Example-The Indian method of the past was a Guru teaching his students in the open space,amidst nature.
*the elderly of the community,the different individuals with knowledge,talents and skills from different parts of the world will enhance the experience of the students,connect them to the global community and learn and apply to their local concepts and issues.

Photo of Christophe Parot

Connections are important !

Photo of Dan Ryan

While the real-time version of this is pretty awesome, it makes me imagine coupling interviews, oral histories, etc. with case studies (e.g., Harvard Business School case studies or the kind you might encounter studying public health or ethics). Students would be able to form their own interpretations, sure, but the "encounter" with the individuals whose "data" they'd been reading about might create a new genre of learning experience.

Photo of Rich

Kate poses the following situation: Suppose you were studying Environmental Justice. You might attend lectures, read some books, pore over a few case studies…or you might want to actually talk to someone who was affected by, say, the Flint, Michigan water crisis or the events following the Fukushima tsunami.  What a powerful ideaa. It  applies to many different conversations. Wouldn’t it be great for computer scientists studying cyber security to assemble key players in the discovery, capture and containment of the Morris Worm, widely believed to be the first broad cyber attack on the Internet? How might a small liberal arts college host a classroom discussion with participants from around the world? The 1981 collapse of a walkway at the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel is often used as a case study for ethics classes, but many of the stakeholders (victims, engineers, construction personnel, government officials) are still living. How about engaging in a dialog with them?

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Rich!

Thanks for responding.

I think live streaming (Skype calls, instant messaging , etc.), Twitter chats and recorded content could be used. I suspect the hardest part would be getting the perspective of all participants for events that happened quite recently and also managing it (especially if there are strong opinions). However, I have seen cases where retired or ex-employees or industry experts have been used.

Interestingly, I am British but I have lived in Austria and had an American ex-partner. Myself, my ex and one of my Austrian friends were all taught slightly different things about World War 2 in high school and from our families and from the society we grew up in.

I am wondering if the international perspective on historical and current events is fully understood and utilised in higher education.

It would be interesting to know your thoughts on this.

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

I had a similar idea for an app called "office hours." I hope your library materializes. 

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris! The Human Library already exists. I am just posting it in the research phases as an example project so that people can draw inspiration and generate new ideas. Please do post the "office hours" in the ideas phase (which opens in 18 days). A lot of our members have responded positively to the Human Library in this challenge, including some people involved in higher education. Kate

Photo of OpenIDEO

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