Don’t judge a book: the Human Library

Published: May 17 2024
Last updated: May 21 2024

Grace Wood | Murray is the first ‘book’ published on epilepsy at the Human Library.

Murray GoulderWhat are the strangest questions you’ve ever been asked about your epilepsy? What would you want to ask someone with a disability you know nothing about?

The Human Library project allows people from all walks of life to do just that. “What do you want to talk about?,” asks Murray, “Ask me anything! Anything you want. There are no offensive questions.”

Murray is a ‘book’ on epilepsy. He was published three months ago and has since been ‘read’ by people from the US, Australia, Glasgow and London.

The Human Library is an international organisation, originally set up in Denmark in 2000, that hosts events in which participants can pose questions to topic experts, also known as ‘books’. The idea is that it allows students, teachers and others to access conversations with people they might not meet in normal life. And, in doing so, helps to combat stigma and prejudice. Murray is the first published book on epilepsy.

“This morning it was Glasgow medical students,” he says, “they’ve made Human Library part of their first-year studies. The students have to attend these.

“Today there were books on obesity from America, there was someone talking about trans issues from Scotland. There were people talking about abuse, and one of those was in Australia.

“I’ll introduce myself, say that my book is epilepsy, and I’ll do a blurb – so I say: ‘I started seeing ghosts when I was 15’, and give them an example of what I see. ‘Two years later I was in a car and that’s when I found out I needed to get help, because I put my foot down on the accelerator and I didn’t even know I’d done it’.  I give a few more examples about hurting myself; times I’ve almost gone off a train platform; and then I open it up to questions.”

The group are allowed to ask Murray anything they like as long as it’s about something he has experienced firsthand. People tend to ask about everyday life.

“They ask about how it has affected your work life: ‘Did people shun you at any point?’; how people reacted in public; what do you do to try to promote it and let people know you’ve got it?’, so I tell them stuff like that. I talk about Epilepsy Action,” he says.



A good way to interact

Cheerful people speaking outsideMurray was inspired to take part in the project when a colleague became a book on anxiety and depression. She had seen his previous work with Epilepsy Action and recommended him to the project.

“I went to a publishing webinar and the night I did it I was talking to a ‘librarian’ – they’re the ones who want to see if you’re the right sort of person – and I spoke to someone in New York, someone in San Francisco, South Africa and France. They judge whether your blurb at the beginning is the right way to go – and I got that right first time.”

The books cover a huge variety of topics.

“There is going to be an event next week where books read books,” says Murray. “So, I could be reading someone else and then they could read mine. You can have anything. There’s one to do with things like witchcraft. There’s all sort of things, religion. One I saw online was ‘black police officer’ in the states, it’s any topic that you have experience of.”

Murray has now been volunteering with the project for more than three months. In that time he’s spoken about surgery, seizure types and mental health.

“Every reading is different,” he says. “Your intro is the same, but you never know what you’re going to get asked.

“I’ve had an in-person one that I did in London – West London Zone, which is an organisation that gives young people opportunities in the area. So, it was talking to community workers. I was surprised with the amount of things they asked: ‘Where is the most embarrassing place you’ve had a seizure?’, one asked.”

But it’s not just for young people. Anyone can set them up, says Murray. And anyone can volunteer.

“Hopefully they can share things they’ve heard or just take something away,” he adds. “It’s a really good way to interact. It’s been fun so far and I would continue to do it when I’ve got the time.”

You can find out more about the Human Library project online.