Want to ‘borrow’ a ‘human book’? Check out Taman Tugu’s Human Library in Kuala Lumpur

A general view of Taman Tugu Human Library reading session. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
A general view of Taman Tugu Human Library reading session. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — Fancy “borrowing” a human being to listen to his/her life story, and even better ask questions?

Now you can have access to “human books” at the Taman Tugu Human Library (TTHL) which is a programme that takes place on the first Sunday of every month.

The Human Library or “Menneskebiblioteket” as it is called in Danish, first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 with the purpose of encouraging dialogue with a library of people in order to address prejudices and stereotypes.

Human books are unique in the sense that every book has a completely different perspective and are made up of volunteers wanting to share their personal journeys/stories. 

TTHL head co-ordinator Mienal Hussein said the ultimate aim of TTHL is to break stereotypes and provide a safe space for sharing personal life experiences. 

According to Mienal, TTHL does not differ much from its Danish counterpart and still maintains the core concept where readers can “borrow” human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. 

“It has been well received and people generally like it. Those who come here learn something new each time,” she said when asked about feedback from readers.

Human Library’s head coordinator Mienal Hussein speaks to Malay Mail at Taman Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur September 8, 2019. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Human Library’s head coordinator Mienal Hussein speaks to Malay Mail at Taman Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur September 8, 2019. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Held at the Taman Tugu Nursery with up to 16 “books” available each time, TTHL is open to the public and free.

Reading sessions are conducted from 9.30am until 12.30pm in either Bahasa Malaysia or English, with each session limited to half an hour each to facilitate better turnovers.

A Children’s Corner is also available during reading sessions to provide visiting families with kids an opportunity to learn traditional games and participate in other interactive activities geared towards Nature conservation.

The first TTHL, held on April 7 titled “Malaysian Military History”, brought together several Armed Forces veterans to share their stories.

Mienal who manages TTHL with a team of four, including herself, said the hardest part was getting people to understand the Human Library concept as it is something fairly new to Malaysians.

“Not only that, we are also finding difficulties getting volunteers to share their stories because they are afraid of exposing their personal experiences and being judged for it,” she said.

An ongoing Human Library reading session where ‘authors’ tell their stories to the ‘readers.’ — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
An ongoing Human Library reading session where ‘authors’ tell their stories to the ‘readers.’ — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Another pioneer who helped set up TTHL is Colonel (Rtd) Allen Lai who met Mienal through an NGO meet in January this year.

Lai, who served in the Armed Forces for 36 years and retired in 1999, said Taman Tugu is a apt place to kickstart the Human Library with its maiden launching covering Malaysian military history.

“Tugu means memorial in English. However, there are not many books written about this. Now it is the time to tell stories and that is how the Human Library came about,” he said.  

At present, TTHL is managed entirely by volunteers and through public contributions but Lai said he hoped corporations would support its growth and activities.

He pointed out how TTHL has since expanded to include several other genres with over 30 titles such as cancer survivors, environmental conservation, May 13 Incident and refugees.

Echoing Mienal’s sentiment, Allen said the hardest part is to get people to come forward and contribute their stories.

The next TTHL reading session consisting of mixed genre, is slated for October 6.

Apart from the ongoing TTHL, Taman Tugu Nursery will also be hosting Taman Tugu Eco Day on September 21.

For further information on upcoming events, visit Taman Tugu Project’s official Facebook page.

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