Denmark: in libraries, humans replace books

Autism, Abandonment of a child for adoption, Survive incestOn a large blackboard hanging at the entrance, Olivia, head of the human library in Copenhagen, inscribes the nine in chalk. ” books “ available this Sunday. The “Readers” arrive, looking puzzled. They only have a few minutes to make their choice, before meeting Dorrit, Louise or Matthew, the ” works ” which they will borrow for half an hour.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, come talk to it instead”

“It is by asking people to tell their story to ‘open book’ that I imagined the model of a library”, explains Ronni Abergel, at the origin of the concept twenty years ago. This Dane started out, at the time, from an observation: there are groups in society that we hear about, but with whom we never have the opportunity to interact. He then decides to create this “Conversation space” and founds an association. Its motto : “Don’t judge a book by its cover, come talk to it instead. “

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Thanks to its four libraries, including that of Copenhagen, the NGO supervises around a hundred meetings per year. But that’s without counting the events it organizes in municipal libraries, schools and, more recently, within companies. Building on its success, the initiative has spread to 85 countries. Including in France, where the Covid-19 has nevertheless slowed down the development of local branches.

A “safe space” for exchanges

After their first reading, Gabrielle and Finja have a big smile on their face. These two expatriates in their twenties are looking for words to describe this experience. Gabrielle starts up. They “read” the “book” entitled High qi. “I imagined people who excelled in class, who had more professional chances. The reality seems quite different “, admits Finja.

Because of these prejudices, they would not have borrowed this ” work “ if they had had the choice; it was one of the only ones available when they arrived. ” And that’s good “, they exclaim, exchanging a knowing look.

Louise is one of the association’s popular “books”. Its title is Incest survivor. By testifying, on a voluntary basis, she hopes to shed new light on this trauma. Before that, this young woman had never told her story in public.

For her, and as for other volunteers, these libraries are above all a “Safe space”. The volunteers carefully supervise all the meetings. “If we feel anger in a ‘reader’, or an insistence on ‘reading’ a particular story, we refuse”, specifies Azlina, “Librarian” since a year.

“It’s not a monologue”

With hot chocolate in hand, Louise enjoys a break between two readings. Despite the two years under her belt, she never tires of: “Each interview is different because it is not a monologue. “ Often the questions addressed, sometimes very intimate, made him reflect on his own situation.

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Louise hastens to finish her drink, the visitors are waiting for her. She is delighted: “At the first ‘readings’, we had to alpagate people in the street to get them to come. “ Installed on a bench, Finja and Gabrielle wait for a second ” delivered “ before the event ends. They regret not having arrived sooner, they would have liked to discover other stories. It is certain, the two friends will return.


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