The Human Library

ideo-challenge

Kate Rushton contributed a startling idea to the Future of Higher Education Challenge  #FutureHigherEd:  Suppose you were studying Environmental Justice.  You might attend lectures, read some books, pore over a few case studies…or you might want to actually talk to someone who was affected by, say,  the Flint, Michigan water crisis or the events following the Fukushima tsunami:

If I was studying it today, instead of reading about Exxon Valdez or Brent Spa, maybe I could learn from the perspective of the people involved in current issues around the world today e.g. the conflict between the Sami and Britain’s Beowulf Mining over an iron ore mining project in the north of Sweden from the perspective of the Sami, other locals, the Swedish government, Beowulf Mining and shareholders in the company, and buyers of iron ore.

That’s the idea behind the Human Library.  What if we could create a platform that would allow learners to easily host events involving people that would otherwise be difficult to assemble.  In Kate’s terms, “What if we could borrow people instead of books?”  It turns out there is a way to do this on a limited scale. Human Library UK is an international movement to facilitate conversations.

The Human Library is an international equalities movement that challenges prejudice and discrimination through social contact. It uses the language and mechanism of a library to facilitate respectful conversations that can positively change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards members of our communities who are at risk of exclusion and marginalisation.

It’s an idea that applies to many different conversations.  Wouldn’t it be great for computer scientists studying cyber security to assemble key players in the discovery, capture and containment of the Morris Worm, widely believed to be the first broad cyber attack on the Internet? How might a small liberal arts college host a classroom discussion with participants from around the world? The 1981 collapse of a walkway at the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel is often used as a case study for ethics classes, but many of the stakeholders (victims, engineers, construction personnel, government officials) are still living.How about  engaging in a dialog with them?

If this appeals to you, visit the openIDEO Challenge website and add your thoughts.

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