Human Library gets people talking

Updated: 2013-11-01 08:02


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"Everyone is a book," is the slogan of a peculiar library in the southern Chinese city of Nanning. Here, the "books" are literally people.

It is the Human Library of Nanning, where people with specific stories to tell have replaced books. Visitors "read" the living tomes by listening to their stories and asking them questions.

"Here you can read people who have special stories or whose work you might never encounter in your own life," said Huang Huajun, a senior college student and founder of the library.

Human Libraries started in Denmark in 2000, the brainchild of a group of young people who wanted to promote tolerance and understanding via the spoken word. In China, these novel libraries flourish in cities such as Shanghai and Chengdu, and are gaining popularity with young people.

Huang stumbled upon the concept in Hong Kong last year and, together with like-minded schoolmate Huang Jingyan, established the Nanning library in April.

"There is a Chinese saying that it's better to travel thousands of miles than to read a thousand books, but we believe reading thousands of people is an even better idea," said Huang Huajun.

Her collection so far consists of 22 "living books" - people who either have distinctive life stories or represent groups that remain largely unknown to the public.

The library has no fixed location, nor does it open every day. Instead, it arranges for readers to meet their "books" on the last Saturday of each month.

On Saturday, dozens of readers met seven living books at a local cafe. Most of them knew about the event through the library's micro blog and had registered in advance.

The living books included a funeral director, a part-time musician, a travel buff with profound knowledge of how to use guidebooks and the parents of an autistic child.

Zhang Na shared the story of her family's experience of managing her son's autism over a decade.

Zhang's son was diagnosed in 1998, when he was only 3, and she had to study the condition and work out training methods on her own. At that time, China lacked advanced autism therapy. Zhang's painstaking efforts greatly improved her son's condition and, hoping to help other families with similar problems, she founded a school in 2003 to offer training to autistic children and their parents.

He Wen has attended the library three times as a "reader." I found that many people are doing things that are not well-known to the public but are really meaningful to society," he said.

For Huang Huajun, the most exciting part of the human library has been expanding its readership. She now attracts around 80 people to each gathering and has up to 10 volunteers who help with the organization.

The library has no income and no permanent sponsorship. It is largely a voluntary group and the two Huangs sometimes pay the costs out of their own pocket.

"People are willing to pay for the goods they like - we pay for the realization of our ideas. Besides, I am a reader myself and I've learned a lot and made many friends," Huang Huajun said.