human library
Photo by Atul Vinayak on Unsplash

A library with a twist, that gives insight into the human mind in all its many forms.

A library is a place where everyone is welcome. It's a safe haven where strangers can peacefully come together, challenge their perspectives and leave having learned something new.

Twenty-one years ago, nonviolence activist and journalist Ronni Abergel decided to expand on this idea when he first created the Human Library. The nonprofit organization was designed to challenge prejudice and stereotypes by encouraging a more empathetic type of literacy.

Skip to Chapter 2021, and the Human Library is now is more than just a concept. It's a movement for change.


"I had a theory that it could work because the library is one of the few places in our community where everyone is welcome, whether you're rich or poor, homeless or living in a castle, professor or illiterate," Abergel told CNN in a recent interview. "It's truly the most inclusive institution in our time."

The concept was simple: there would still be readers and books. Only at this library, the "books" would be often stigmatized or socially unconventional people. And the "readers" would come in with specific questions, ready to listen intently to the story each "book" holds.

Sticking to library language, they even have "books of the month." The last winner was a Holocaust survivor who now spends her time traveling between the Netherlands and California.

The book titles are decidedly generic. "Transgender," "Disabled" or "Homeless." Normally this type of labeling is problematic, identifying one small aspect of a person's experience as their defining characteristic. But this is exactly what helps start a meaningful conversation and bring awareness to certain automatic judgments we all have.

With only 30 minutes allotted, conversations get very personal very fast. Conservative Christians discuss faith with Muslims. Black activists meet with Trump supporters. Anti-vaxxers talk with pro-vaxxers. Through intimate, honest and heartfelt conversation, both readers and books gain closeness, understanding that at the end of the day, beyond conflicting societal structures and different walks of life, they are each looking at a human being sitting across from them.

Katy Jon Went, one of the Human Library's coordinators in the United Kingdom, offers insight on how the Human Library helps us evolve past our own human nature:

"At the end of the day, the rest of the world sees us as something else before it sees us as humans. So even if we see ourselves as human, the world sees us first as trans, black or disabled. But if the world sees me first as those things, it is probably also how I see others. It is about recognizing the other aspects of being human: we are imperfect, we make mistakes, we do make judgements and we have unconscious biases."

In challenging perspectives through peaceful discourse, we are able to connect beyond our previous limitations. That is what makes the Human Library so powerful. And the effects are more than psychosomatic. A recent study in April indicated that the reading sessions provided a positive impact on both reader and book in a lasting way, as participants were able to vividly recall their experience months after the initial session.

We don't need a study to know that when we are emotionally affected by something—or someone—it sticks with us. When we are moved, we are changed.

Since its inception, the Human Library has done nothing but expand. There are now several locations that have popped up across the United States. When COVID-19 hit, reading sessions were available worldwide via Zoom. Corporations such as Microsoft have incorporated the Human Library into their diversity training. A new app is currently being developed where readers can search a desired book topic on their smartphone.

Interested in becoming a book? The Human Library is always looking to add to its collection. You can find out more about getting "published" at the organization's website.

In a time where hate and prejudice continue to divide us, perhaps radical change comes through the simple act of just listening.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

Keep Reading Show less

Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani wows audiences with his amazing musical talents.

Mozart was known for his musical talent at a young age, playing the harpsichord at age 4 and writing original compositions at age 5. So perhaps it's fitting that a video of 5-year-old piano prodigy Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani playing Mozart has gone viral as people marvel at his musical abilities.

Alberto's legs can't even reach the pedals, but that doesn't stop his little hands from flying expertly over the keys as incredible music pours out of the piano at the 10th International Musical Competition "Città di Penne" in Italy. Even if you've seen young musicians play impressively, it's hard not to have your jaw drop at this one. Sometimes a kid comes along who just clearly has a gift.

Of course, that gift has been helped along by two professional musician parents. But no amount of teaching can create an ability like this.

Keep Reading Show less