Community Life

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: the Human Library in Auroville

In Auroville, we have two kinds of libraries: there is, of course, the Auroville library with its selection of  50,000 books in 10 languages, and then there’s another…one that’s a little less traditional. The Human Library is a place where every once in a while, we can go ‘read’ the stories of our fellow Aurovilians. Although the COVID-19 lockdown now stops us from organising this popular event, we want to take a look back at this wonderful initiative and how it came to life in Auroville. 

A Library without Books

The Human Library Organization was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. Its creators want to challenge people’s judgements and stereotypes, while allowing for conversation that brings communities together. It now has partners in 70 countries across the world, with events taking place on a regular basis. 

The idea to do something similar in Auroville came from Sumit, a volunteer in the community who had been to Copenhagen and thought the Human Library concept would have great potential in Auroville. As he needed help to organise it, he approached YouthLink, the service of Auroville aimed at helping the Auroville youth grow by organising traineeships, workshops, seminars and events.

So how does it work? The concept is simple: instead of having paper books, the Human Library is full of human ‘books’ that have a story to share. And along with Books, you have Readers, these are the people attending the event. Book’s pick a ‘title’ for themselves and hang them up on a board – Readers select a title and go meet with the corresponding book . Each Book has a 20 minute time frame to tell their story, followed by a 10 minute exchange for the Readers to ask questions or share their feelings. All the Books tell their stories simultaneously to their Readers in different corners of the library. 

Connection, Community

The Books are there to share their personal story, and the goal is to encourage or inspire people through the human connection that is created. As the setting is very intimate, it gives us a chance to connect to another life, another human being. At the Auroville Human Library, there are a maximum of 10 readers to a book at a time. Michael, who was an organiser and Book at the event, agrees that intimacy is the most important: “Sometimes it’s just amazing, when you see someone sharing their story and the Readers get so inspired, some even cry… they connect on a deeper level. This is because in the end somehow, we human beings are all seeking for the same thing.”

While you might expect that people in Auroville all know each other’s past already, that is not necessarily true. Working and living together is different from sitting down and telling your story. The Human Library can help us get closer together and understand each other’s life journey. For example, as a community we have an idea of what it’s like to grow up in Auroville, but do we know what it is like to grow up here without a sense of fitting in? Or, did we know that our local Ayurvedic masseur used to be a tax lawyer? That our favourite restaurant is run by a former art critic? 

Getting to know each other this way can really bring a community together. Michael would like to use the Human Library to also help bridge the gaps between the younger generation and the older, by having pioneer Aurovillians come and share their stories with the youth and Newcomers of Auroville.

Telling Your Story

Micheal was a Book, so he spent the last event sharing his story 4 times. “Each time is different, I never get bored of telling the story. Honestly, I had not expected that people would be so positive about the event. It’s important that we tell our own story, because then we aren’t speaking in theory, there is no preaching or teaching. You are there to talk about you. And people come with an open mind to listen. And because it is so small, you can speak about sensitive topics comfortably.”

Watch Michael speak live about the Human Library Experience

While he loves the concept and wants to do it more, he also remembers it as a lot of work!

“We have to ask people if they want to be Books, but then we also interview them to make sure that they are good storytellers. The event won’t be so successful if the books aren’t able to speak to an audience.” Then there are logistics: setting up the space, promotion, getting the Readers in. As the Human Library is a registered trademark, the event also has to fulfil a few requirements: For example, the Human Library organisation finds it very important that the event addresses a social issue. “So that concept has to be explained and incorporated into each book’s story.”

Auroville has hosted 3 Human Library Events so far, and the response has been very positive. Michael hopes they can eventually do one event per month, but it might be a while before it happens – as someone has to take up the task of organizing, and Youthlink is not able to do it right now. But Michael is motivated to do more. “It’s just a matter of finding more people to help out.” So if you are around Auroville and feel inspired, get in touch with Youthlink!

Inspired to organise your own Human Library wherever you are? Get in contact with the Human Library Organisation.

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