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The Human Library – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’

We’ve all done it: looked at someone and made an instant judgement about who we think they are. According to evolutionary psychology, ‘judging a book by its cover’ is actually an inherent human trait which dates back thousands of years and is a natural instinct based on survival. Studies have shown that during the first year of our lives, our natural instinct draws us to people we see as a friendly face. However, as we get older, our instincts and judgements are developed through our environment. Fast forward to the last decade and we see that social media can play a huge part in influencing how we judge people.

Times are changing and in 2000, a project was created in Copenhagen which sought to ‘unjudge’ others through the concept of a library where people are the books. The human books are seeking to challenge and defy stigma and stereotypes about subjects based on their personal experiences through open dialogue with the ‘reader’. Many human books have experienced bullying and discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin etc and allowing ‘readers’ to ask open questions about their experiences, helps to change people’s opinions and perceptions of someone. Despite the name, the ‘libraries’ themselves are in fact organised events held across the world and has included events held at festivals. This revolutionary project’s mission is to create a safe space for dialogue where topics are discussed openly between human books and their readers, proving the opportunity to learn, change and growth a culture of inclusivity through understanding.

If you are an employer with a diverse workforce, you will probably already have policies and training in place to encourage an inclusive environment within your workplace. However, the concept of the Human Library can introduce a more practical approach to diversity and inclusion training through engagement in direct conversations with employees experiencing stigma, discrimination or prejudice because of their differences. The aim of the training is to encourage cultural change within the workplace.

There are other benefits too:

  • Employers can gain a competitive advantage – an employer who is known to have an inclusive culture will be more attractive to perspective employees.
  • Creates a diverse environment – an employer who values the differences of others is what ultimately brings the workforce together and can be the secret to a successful, thriving workplace and a fair work culture. Encouraging employers to look beyond the diagnosis, appearance and stigma and see the person and competences behind them allows employees to grow.
  • Strengthens corporate culture – encourages a better understanding of its employees and customers.

Employers with a young workforce who rely heavily on social media as a way of interacting with others are likely to find the challenges of an inclusive culture more difficult. With the advancements in technology and nearly 80% of the UK population now smartphone users, it’s important we continue to encourage open conversations as we can learn so much more about someone than what we see.

So the next time you meet someone, think of the Human Library and remember everyone has a story to tell – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. For more information and support on how to support an equal, diverse and inclusive workplace speak to our People Projects team. More information about the Human Library can be found by visiting

Girl sitting at a desk using a desktop computer with multiple screens.