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Unjudging a book’s cover

The Human Library is an opportunity to look past first impressions

Moorestown resident Karen Reiner first learned about the Human Library Project from a meme she saw on Facebook. It read: “In Denmark, there are libraries where you can borrow a person instead of a book to listen to their life story for 30 minutes. The goal is to fight prejudice.’”

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“Somebody posted that, and I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds really cool,’” Reiner recalled. “And a lot of local people liked and commented on that like, ‘This is really neat, we should do this in Moorestown.’”

The meme goes on to state: “Each person has a title – “unemployed” or “refugee” or “bipolar,” etc. – but listening to their story, you realize how much you shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover.” This innovative, brilliant project is active in 50 countries. It is called the Human Library.”

“We took up that challenge and decided to do it,” Reiner said of the idea.

MooreUnity and the Moorestown library brought the first Human Library Project to South Jersey earlier this month at the latter. The concept was acknowledging and challenging our prejudices toward each another.

“People serve as a human book and they are there to share a life story of how they’ve been faced with discrimination or stereotyping or stigma,” Reiner explained. “And by having a conversation with them – which is called a reading – individuals get to learn a little bit beyond the cover of a book.

“The concept of, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ comes into play.”

Reiner is also the president of MooreUnity, a nonprofit whose vision is to raise awareness of divisive forces in the community and promote inclusion. She’s hopeful that people walk away from the Human Library event with a greater appreciation or a greater understanding of somebody else’s lived experiences.

“When you’re reading something, it’s all theoretical,” Reiner acknowledged, “but when you meet a human being, that’s so much more relatable. After having one of these Human Library readings – aka conversations – maybe you’ll be interested then in checking a book out and learning more about it, or maybe you’ll just have an experience that will change you forever in terms of your perception of other people.”

Library Director Joan Serpico has wanted to hold a Human Library event at the facility for years, and she’s excited for attendees to learn more about a person through storytelling and not just the format of a book.

“I think one of the reasons why many of us enjoy reading – fiction especially, but even nonfiction books – in general is for us to be able to experience what somebody outside of our own realm or own experience, with what their life is like,” she noted, “so that we can learn from it or understand each other better.

“What we’re hoping is that this experience allows that to happen, but maybe on an even higher level, because it would be an actual person talking about their experience rather than filtered through the format of a book.”

“We hope that it’s going to really be a magical day for the books and the readers,” Reiner added, “and that everybody will walk away with some compassion and some understanding of someone who’s lived their life in a very different way, either through choice or through circumstances.”


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