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Seeing Beyond the Title: Supporting Civity Conversations at the Human Library



This summer, Civity worked closely with Derek Wolfgram and Jenny Barnes from the Redwood City Public Library to help bring to life the city’s first-ever Human Library event.

The Human Library project—launched 18 years ago in Denmark—challenges stereotypes and prejudices through one-on-one conversations. In a Human Library, the “Books” are people with “Titles” such as “Muslim,” “Veteran,” “Formerly Homeless,” or “Transgender.” Members of the community can “check out” these "Books" and hear their stories in person—just as they could check out a regular book and read the story it contains. The Human Library is inspired by the idea that once you get to know someone’s story, the harder it is to judge them by their “cover." Through conversation, we learn that people are much, much more than their "Titles."

The Library recruited 16 Books to share their stories with the community (check out some of them in the video below!), ranging from a Muslim community activist, to a gay parent, to a combat veteran, to a couple of police officers. Civity worked with the Library to train the Books, helping them practice telling their stories, and sharing tips for navigating potentially difficult conversations.

On September 22, community members gathered at the Library and “checked out” the Books. Many participants shared with us how meaningful the experience was for them.


During the event, one "Reader" said, “I can forget a book. I’ll remember this forever.” Another Reader wrote about her experience moving past her own judgments while speaking with one of the Books, a conservative woman of color. One participant commented, “Prejudice, stigma, discrimination exist to an extent I can hardly comprehend as a middle class, native English speaking white person.” Another found the experience motivational: “I feel more empowered by members of my community…. People who are often stigmatized are the source for incredible inspiration!”

Overall, the day was filled with members of the Redwood City community having respectful, empathetic conversations across and through difference, building Civity and “social muscle.” Going forward, Civity is consulting with the Redwood City Public Library about future Human Library events.

"Malka and Reba from Civity were the best partners we could have hoped for," said Wolfgram. "They were extremely thoughtful and empathetic, while also being highly organized and bringing research-based approaches to interpersonal communication that helped all of our human Books and Readers have a very positive experience. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Civity again on our next iteration of the Human Library."

And the word gets around! Civity has now been invited to support the San Francisco Public Library in training Books for a Human Library event at one of its branches next spring. Libraries are a fantastic space to bring communities together in conversation across difference, and Civity looks forward to collaborating with libraries to create Civity conversation spaces!


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© 2017 Civity

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