Q&A with The Human Library

Published 12 April 2019 by Amy Bedford

Waltham Forest is full of fantastically diverse and interesting stories.

Starting this month Bisi Oyekanami will bring these to the fore giving people an opportunity to listen and share stories with The Human Library. We asked Bisi a few questions to find out more about the upcoming project. 

Where did the idea for The Human Library come from? 

I encountered a Human Library at a festival and had a wonderful conversation with a woman who had recently completed her cancer treatment. We spoke intimately about her experience and then moved onto places in the world we had visited and different challenges we had faced. It was the most wonderful 30minutes and a highlight of the weekend. And it stuck with me.

Fast forward a few years and the opportunity to submit a project idea for the Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture grants programme came up. I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a way to bring together the very many communities in Waltham Forest. Thus The Human Library Waltham Forest was born!

What should people expect when they visit? 

I really hope residents will get to know each other past the initial layers we all see. We are so much more than the labels we wear or are assigned. I hope books and readers at the Human Library will make connections with each other and challenge some of those perceptions or assumptions they came with. With these new perspectives I hope we can continue to make our communities welcoming and open to all.

Eric Klinenberg described libraries as ‘Palaces for the people’ why is it important that we celebrate and use these valuable public spaces? 

Libraries are indeed palaces and they’re for everyone. I’ve had a relationship with libraries as far back as I remember and they’re always places I know I can go to escape, discover or knuckle down. I am holding The Human Library events in libraries because I want to celebrate our libraries. I want people who don’t normally go to libraries to remember that they’re there for us all, whatever stage of life we are at.

What’s the most surprising story you’ve heard so far? 

I’m so excited by the wonderful stories that are coming through the registration portal. We will have a woman who used to bunk off school to open Liberace’s fan letters and later became the Head of Casting for the Royal Shakespeare Company;  the French speaker who through tenacity and an unconventional route secured a successful career in accounting at the height of the recession; the child of a catholic priest and nun; the neonatal nurse working in Northern Nigeria; the resident who turned a disused shop window into a window gallery, the published author who left school unable to read; the Tamil/Ghanian Greek god…there are so many amazing stories in our Borough.  

When will the event take place and can anyone get involved? 

27th April - Hale End Library, Highams Park E4 9QD

4th May - South Chingford Community Library, Chingford E4 8LP

18th May - Walthamstow Library, Walthamstow E17 7JN

1st June - Higham Hill Library, Walthamstow E17 5HS

8th June - Leytonstone Library, Leytonstone E11 1HG

Click on the links to book. 

Follow The Human Library on social @HumanLibraryWF