Public Engagement at Bath

Supporting researchers to engage the public with their research

The human library

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Daniel Finnegan (Computer Science), Tayfun Essenkaya (Psychology) & Meike Scheller (Psychology) were awarded £500 to pilot a Human Library initiative in Bath, a framework for conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

This project initially aimed to raise awareness of people with sensory impairments and mental illnesses. It has now been extended to people from all types of minority groups, as well as anyone with a story to tell. The purpose is to create an opportunity for these people to come together with the general public and share their stories with each other without any judgements. It aims to challenge and decrease prejudice by speaking out and sharing each other’s experiences and viewpoints.

It is a modern day problem that people don’t talk to each other very much, leading to a hardening of beliefs about “others” – especially minority groups. Meike is trying to reduce this by encouraging people to talk to each other about what makes them who they are in the Human Library. Exchanging stories allows others to put their firmly held ideas about certain groups into perspective and to embrace diversity through understanding “others”. Understanding others facilitates acceptance and this can only be achieved through engagement with one another.

Meike found out about the Human Library project through her colleague and co-organiser, Tayfun, who was involved in a Human Library in Turkey some years ago. She felt it would be useful for her public engagement work because it gives a better understanding of what makes humans special and important details that are often not included in lab-based experiments. The Human Library is a place where people are the “books” to read. It is designed to provide a safe and positive environment for people to verbally share ideas and opinions that can challenge stereotypes and prejudice. Meike, Dan and Tayfun had the idea to pair the participants with researchers, and ideally pair up people who know each other to make them more comfortable. The aim is to have small tables of 4-5 “book pairs” to tell their stories.

The project team has had a large amount of interest in the subject, but not enough people have been willing enough to commit to participating. Meike wanted to have the event at the University of Bath festival this year, but due to not having commitment from people, it had to be postponed and reorganised at another venue. The Human Library event took place on 7th July in the Bath Central Library meeting room. Meike decided to look into places in Bath city centre due to the idea that the location of the University might enforce a perceived ‘(physical) hierarchy’ and could put people off from travelling up to it. It was hoped a more relaxed environment in an open room would encourage people to come along.

Meike identified some researchers who would like to be involved with the event, and matched them with suitable partners. Meike has learned through the planning process that targeting single people directly gives more positive responses than releasing an open request to a group of people. She believes the event was a good opportunity for making connections with new people for the future.

Contact Meike (m.scheller@bath.ac.uk) for further information about the project.

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