Library service debuts new project by booking in with prison
Shropshire Council’s libraries service has worked in partnership with the Human Library to pilot an event at HMP Stoke Heath – the first in the world to be held inside a prison.
The ground-breaking initiative, which saw three volunteer ‘human library books’ go to the county prison to be ‘read’ by six selected prisoner representatives in a bid to open up frank conversations.
Human Library events bring people together, to discuss and challenge prejudices. It began in Denmark 19 years ago and has now extended to 85 countries, and Shropshire is the first ‘branch’ in the world to visit a prison.
Six prisoners equality representatives become readers of three volunteer Human Library books with transgender, bereavement, mental health and growing up in care titles.
Each reading took about half an hour and, just like in a real library, where books provide an insight to unknown worlds, the Human Library offers its readers the chance to step into the world of another person, as well as providing a safe space for a frank conversation.
The pilot gathered praise from those involved and the prisoners commented:
“They were all inspirational and I took a lot from the books.”
“It was very touching hearing other’s opinion and views. It was quite emotional and amazing at the same time.”
“The bereavement affected me the most, it brought up personal experience, but healthy to do so, happy for the experience.”
Michael Lewis, head of Shropshire Council’s libraries service, said:-
“We have seen the impact that Human Library conversations have on readers in public libraries, and the way that a simple dialogue about challenging topics breaks barriers and provides safe and nurturing time to develop human connection and empathy.
“With this first ever pilot of the Human Library inside the prison, we will be encouraging prisoners to ask and discuss difficult questions to see if we can find more things that connect us, rather than divide us within four walls.
“Prisoners will be able to challenge their perceptions and ask personal questions about how our Human Library books have themselves dealt with prejudice and stigma.”
Gill Pereira, head of reducing reoffending Stoke Heath Prison /YOI, added:-
“It was a great pleasure to work with the Human Library, Shropshire Council’s libraries service, prison staff and prisoner equalities representatives to organise this groundbreaking successful event at HMP/YOI Stoke Heath.
“Our prisoner equality representatives engaged extremely well, found all the topics very interesting, and had some really frank and open discussions to discuss prejudice. They all rated the event very highly and identified useful topics for future events ,which will be taken to our equalities forum to help develop our strategy.”
For more information:
Human Library Organisation – https://humanlibrary.org/
Shropshire Libraries – https://shropshire.gov.uk/libraries/
Stoke Heath Prison – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/stoke-heath-prison