In January 2013, the first national CBC Human Library was held in Canadian communities across the country. In the Human Library, people who have experienced prejudice and stereotyping in their lives volunteer to become “books” whose “readers”, the interested public, are offered the chance to “borrow” them for free. Readers register a check-out time to listen and converse, individually and face-to-face, with their books. The purpose — to help build understanding between people and break down stereotypes.
The Human Library originated in Denmark in 2000. It was created by young people who wanted to expose and help eliminate intolerance in their society. They organised and staged the first Human Library, which they called “Menneskebiblioteket", as a four-day event at Roskilde, Denmark. Since then, annual Human Library events have become popular in nearly 30 countries.
CBC began by piloting the Human Library in Ottawa in January 2012. It was staged at six branches of the Ottawa Public Library, as well as the Canadian War Museum, where a special event was held. That successful pilot paved the way for an even more ambitious undertaking — the national CBC Human Library, on January 26, 2013, in partnership with local libraries and cultural centres in 15 cities across the country, from St. John’s to Yellowknife. For those who could not attend in person, CBC hosted live online chats and engaged people around the world through various social media platforms. The numbers attest to the high interest in this activity — over 10,700 video chats took place for CBC Human Library’s Live Online experience and #CBCHumanLibrary trended internationally on Twitter that day. As well, the interactive map featured on the CBC Human Library website garnered over 30,000 unique visitors from around the world.
This year’s human books, featured at different locations across the country, included a diverse cross-section of Canadians: a rapper, an amputee, a recovering alcoholic, a Muslim scholar, an astrophysicist, a First Nation Council woman, a gay RCMP officer, and a person who had recently become homeless. Also participating were an investigative reporter, a chef, a bus driver, a Heritage breed farmer, a police officer, a drag queen, an imam, an urban Inuk, a comedian, a paramedic, a mountain climber, a funeral home director, and many others with unique and evocative stories to tell.
And what was the outcome? Well over 2,000 Canadians went out on a winter’s day to personally converse with 263 human “books” and thousands of others participated through social media! In doing so, they showed their desire to better understand others and to conquer stereotypes that interfere with our need to respect all fellow citizens.
Deepening our relationship with, and engaging with, Canadians in new ways is one of the commitments made by CBC/Radio-Canada in our strategy, 2015: Everyone, Every way. The CBC Human Library offers an ideal opportunity for Canadians to engage with their public broadcaster and their fellow citizens for the purpose of building a better, more tolerant society in Canada. It is a leadership role that CBC/Radio-Canada recognises and embraces.