Tuesday, 26 April 2011

LIKE 24: The Human Library

The phrase 'Human library' has the whiff of Dave Cameron's Big Society about it - something, perhaps, along the lines of getting volunteers to run the reference desk. Well, that was my first thought when I recieved the invitation to LIKE 24: The Human Library. A little research revealed that in fact this is a scheme whereby readers 'borrow' a person or 'book' for a conversation - just as they would borrow a book from a library. Hopefully this leads to people engaging with others to draw upon their experiences.

It all sounded very interesting but I was still a little doubtful about the concept. Linda Constable, who has been involved with Human Libraries since 2007, began the talk by explaining that the idea started in Denmark in 2000 and used to be known as the Living library. To illustrate that power of the 'library', she talked about number of popular 'books' that can be borrowed such as a recovering alcoholic, Big Issue seller, or a Muslim lady who helped 'readers' gain a better understanding of cultural differences. This was all very interesting but can the concept be used in a business environment?

Once the explanation was over, it was time to put the idea into practice. The room divided roughly into those who had volunteered to be books and those who wanted to read. Topics ranged from KM issues, Italy, to something about adults and comics. There was soon plenty of conversation and from the people I spoke to the general consensus seemed to be that it was a useful technique for passing on knowledge. Initial reservations about the concept only being relevant to more marginal areas of society were dismissed and they could see it being useful in connecting work colleagues, seeing the benefits of being able to 'read up' from an expert.

In the LIKE experiment, the Human Library seemed to work best where the 'book' was about a specific subject or an autobiography, rather than a general topic like Travel. For example, I volunteered myself as a Mountaineering book. I chatted away about the subject but feel that it would have been better for my readers if I'd narrowed the title to a particular area of the subject.

An interesting evening that left introduced LIKE members to something new and useful. A short film about the Human Library can be seen here.

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