News, events, and articles for the Catalyst Network of Communities.

Human Library Cultivates Empathy and Understanding

If a picture can be worth a thousand words, then a real-life encounter can be a priceless novel. That’s our hope for the Human Library event to be held on Saturday, May 31st from 1-4pm at the Long Beach Main Public Library, 101 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802 at the corner of Ocean Blvd.  

Hosted and organized by the Long Beach Public Library, Catalyst Network of Communities, Long Beach Free School, Long Beach Time Exchange, and Eayikes, the Human Library event will feature 15 “human books” that can be checked out by attendees for 15-20 minute intervals. Human books are people who will share unique and interesting aspects of their lives like an open book so that “readers” can gain a better understanding of the person’s life experiences.

One of the human books that can be checked out is someone who lives with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). C-PTSD can be the result of prolonged exposure to traumatic events. DID was formerly known as multiple personality disorder and is characterized by the presence of two or more identities or personality states.

Other human books range from a breastfeeding advocate, a gender non-conforming individual, creator of a children’s television show called SheZow that airs on the Hub Network, a woman formerly incarcerated in prison, and someone who has experienced agoraphobia (commonly and loosely thought of as the fear of being outside).

Human Libraries have the potential of cultivating a sense of empathy and understanding among attendees, providing a safe space to listen, inquire, and learn about others without judgment.

Rachael Rifkin, lead organizer of the Human Library in Long Beach, says, “Human Libraries are a great way to discover and challenge your own prejudices about people as well as get to know some incredible people in your area.”

Long Beach is a diverse city with people who have diverse perspectives and life experiences. It can sometimes lead to disconnectedness, misunderstandings, and apathy. This intentional effort of cultivating understanding between people is one way that organizers hope to improve the way residents relate with each other.

The first Human Library was held in 2000 in Copenhagen, Denmark by the five youth activists behind Stop the Violence, an organization created in response to a friend’s stabbing. The idea for Human Libraries came when they were encouraged to help come up with dialogue-inducing anti-violence activities for a local festival. Their concept focused on breaking down prejudice through peaceful conversation and storytelling, and was a big hit at the festival.

Since then, hundreds of Human Library events have been created all over the world. In Southern California, the Santa Monica Public Library held a Human Library in 2008. As one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., Long Beach is a perfect place for a Human Library.

Past Human Library books have included vegans, funeral directors, immigrants, police, people with disabilities, drag queens, cancer patients, ex-gang members, people who are HIV positive, graffiti artists, people who are transgender, former prostitutes, etc. Basically, anyone with a unique background or experience.

For more information, visit the Facebook event page at or contact Rachael Rifkin at