human library books There are many categories to browse at this library. (Photo: Human Library Project)

The older you get, the tougher it can be to get to know people outside your bubble. Whether you live in the same town you grew up in or have moved every few years like I have, meeting new people is a challenge. And hanging out with people who may be different from you is even tougher. I'm not the only one who feels shy around people I don't think I'll have much in common with.

The Human Library is all about closing what I'll call the "weirdness gap." That's the (wholly imaginary) space between you and most other people you think you can't relate to — because you think it'll be too weird.

This library isn't about checking out books, movies, magazines or other media. In this "worldwide movement for social change," it's people who are "checked out."

An image of a soldier with the text: Solider (PTSD) across the image. One of the 'human books' you can check out of the Human Library. (Photo: (Photo: Human Library Project)

"The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers. A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered," according to library's website.

You can check out a variety of people — think "Borrow a Naturist," "Borrow a Refugee," "Borrow a Homeless" or Borrow a Body Modified."

Now, these descriptions sound like they could be reductive, but if you think about it, books are the same way. There's plenty of variety among mystery books or memoirs. We don't expect them to tell us the same stories, and the same is true for people.

Finding common ground

An image of a woman with the text: "Refugee" across the image. Here's another type of 'book' you can borrow. (Photo: Human Library Project)

Each of the people in the library is unique with their own story to share. And that's really the point. Because although it would be interesting to hear a refugee's story of making their way to your country, what really matters is that there's a person — who probably has something in common with you — within that story. And by speaking with them, you can both learn what those commonalities are.

"This helped me better understand myself and honestly, 'Human Library' sounded kind of square to me, so I had never expected it to be such a powerful and moving experience," said Mette Bøtter, a student in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the Human Library is based.

But they have events — and groups — around the world. The most up-to-date information is on the organization's Facebook page. In the United States, there are Human Library "book depots" in NYC and the San Francisco Bay area.

Challenge yourself to move beyond your preconceptions and stereotypes, and meet up with a real person. You might change your mind — or not, but you'll certainly know more than you did before.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

At this library, it's humans on loan, not books
By 'borrowing' someone from the Human Library, you get to learn their story — and share their humanity.