Ideas for change: the Human Library

The Human Library is a project based at Bootle Library in Sefton, designed to tackle social isolation and build a community network using free creative events.

How can you use a library to bring people together, to get them to cook a meal around a big pot, to make the bowls and serving dishes themselves, to learn how to care for plants, or how to meditate, to learn the skills they need to apply for jobs or do interviews? This is what we’re doing at the Human Library.

Organised by Sefton Council, funded by Arts Council England and run by creative producers and artists, the Human Library is just one of many projects taking place in libraries across the country exploring how they can be encouraged to be used as community hubs, to connect people who use the library and might feel isolated and lonely, or to provide a social space that’s accessible for people who may be struggling and feel their community hubs are vanishing.

Bootle faces a lot of social challenges and is, as many towns are, seeing its funding reduce, exacerbating many of these issues. Bootle is one of the most deprived towns in the country, in the bottom 10%. One of its wards, Linacre, is in the bottom 5%. In Linacre, half of the children live in low income families, there is 10% unemployment, 5% of it long term and 36% of the working age population claim benefits. Almost half the children living there are on free school meals.

We know the health and isolation issues that stem from these socio-economic issues and the networks that have traditionally supported people are diminishing.

The Human Library was devised as a way to try to tackle this. Using the library as a social and community hub, it provides a focal point, a place for people to go. The programme promotes health, wellbeing and is about building confidence and community identity.

A range of events take place in the library every week. We have Storytime, for example, every Wednesday morning with tea and toast. We do yoga and mindfulness, workshops on taking care of plants and skills exchange. We’re working with the Fairland Collective for the One Pot Project, where we invite the local community to make and eat lunch together. They make the pots, napkins and then prepare the lunch in the library to sit and eat together.

We’re doing the Story of Bootle in 100 Objects, using people’s own treasures to build a social history and we have a podcasting series, teaching people how to tell their story and to use digital recording equipment. This is being run by the same team who ran Tenantspin, an arts projects in Liverpool which brought older people together who lived in the city’s high rise blocks and taught them broadcast and digital skills.

Maggie, a local who has been coming to the events says, ‘I’ve met some really lovely people, it feels so great to be involved (in the Human Library). I like that you’re just able to express yourself however it suits you. We’ve done lots of different things so far including making bowls out of clay. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t done any of it before and I could just create the shape I wanted not like being at school!’

The future of libraries is uncertain, in Bootle and Sefton as well as elsewhere. Libraries have such an important social purpose. With the Human Library we’re trying to create a new network, trying to give people the confidence to develop their own.

The aim is to hand the project over to the community, can run it and the library remains a community focus with a vibrant programme of events community can be involved in (ground up, not top down).

  • Find out more about The Human Library here.


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