Human Library, full of Living Books: Read person, read life
Human Library, full of Living Books: Read person, read life
  • Jang Youn-hee
  • 승인 2012.04.13 17:45
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As technology progressed over the past few decades, electronic gadgets such as tablet PC became new medium for reading. Among those diverse kinds of media, there is quite an extraordinary one to be regarded as a book; human beings themselves. Literally, a human can become a book.
The Human Library, a place where these Living Books are arranged, was first created by a Danish social activist Ronni Abergel in 2000 at the Roskilde Festival, one of the biggest annual music festivals in Europe. The idea was to eliminate the most common prejudices of society, such as those held against homosexuals, single mothers, and people with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Reading a Living Book at the Human Library and by having a conversation with “it,” the reader is able to change his or her biased perceptions.
In order to check out a Living Book, readers should be aware of the following rules: Readers are only allowed to take out one book at a time, and the Living Book can choose to discontinue a loan and return to the Library, if he or she feels so inclined. All the Living Books are volunteers. After the Roskilde Festival, Ronni Abergel spread the notion of the Human Library to a number of NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) events. As a result, it soon became popular worldwide and continues today.
The first Human Library in Korea was organized by the National Assembly Library in February 2010. Since then, big and small organizations have been holding events using terms like Human Library, Living Library, or Human Books.
While the original Living Books in Denmark are mostly delegates who represent social prejudice, those in Korea include not only successful figures in particular fields but also common neighbors.
The Nonhyeon Information Library in Gangnam-gu holds a Living Library event every third Saturday.
At an event held on March 17, a special Living Book from Ethiopia participated. Negatoo Mecuria, an 85-year-old war veteran of the Korean War, released his stories about war and his post-war life to the Living Book readers.
“In the past, Korea was a poor country but now it is one of the richest countries in the world which makes my participation in the Korea War rewarding,” Mecuria said.
Besides Mecuria, 28 other living books took part in the event, including a college student who overcame game addiction and eventually earned a 4.4 out of 4.5 GPA (Grade Point Average), as well as a housewife whose hobby is paragliding. Anyone interested can be enrolled as Living Book if they have any story about their life they want to share.
“The purpose of the Living Library is understanding people who are living a different life from mine. By having conversations face to face, and listening to one another, people start to feel sympathy,” said Kim Min-jeong, the librarian in charge of the Living Library.
Nowon Human Library which opened on March 21, was built for readers who want to read Human Books regularly.
“I decided to be a Human Book to share my professional knowledge on wild ginseng and love for nature with my readers,” said Jun Byung-dal who participated as a Human Book at Nowon Human Library on April 5. Jun is currently working as a social welfare public official in Seoul on weekdays and has worked as a Simmani (Korean word for a person who digs wild ginseng professionally) on weekends for 28 years.
The Human Library made by Peoplehouse, an autonomous community of local residents, began holding “Human Book Festivals” in 2010. Its latest book festival was held on March 11 for those in their 20s under the theme of “Getting along with insecurity.”
“The festival was held to relieve the insecurity of those in 20s, and let them know that it is not only themselves but also others who are also anxious about their future,” said Hyun Seung-in, the head of the planning group for the festival.
According to Hyun, one of the best merits of Living Books is that the Living Book and its readers can have mutual interaction directly, unlike reading a paper book or receiving a lecture, which makes only a one-sided delivery of a story possible.
People who participated in the festival were able to further interact with the Human Library by leaving book reviews on the homepage (
 “I had read lots of bestsellers on what I should do in my 20s, but none of them satisfied me and solved my problems. But through meeting many Living Books who had spent a special period during their 20s, I was able to gain inspiration,” Lee Ga-hyang said in her book review after the festival.

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