In Kazakhstan, communities which are not a part of the country’s five main religious groups face discrimination. Ethnic minorities experience violence and hate crimes, and the LGBTQ+ community experiences violence and discrimination which leads them to hide their identities due to fear. Minorities are underrepresented politically, and cases of suicide have been linked to the pressure of acceptance. These are just some of the problems facing Kazakh society.
The human library is a social movement that originated in Denmark in 2000. It addresses the issue of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, political opinion, gender, sexual orientation and disability and aims to create an open dialogue where people can challenge their stereotypes.
At Nazarbayev University Library, Human Library events started in 2016, and the Library has hosted five of these activities. People with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as young women in science were invited. The events are a part of the inclusive education program of the library to address discrimination and other social issues, so that young people will understand that it is possible to live in a harmonious society without physical or mental abuse.
In the human library, people read other people instead of books. The event invites a set of “human books” that represent various stereotypes. The goal is for the books to open and share what they feel and how they were able to conquer different types of discrimination. The readers, in turn, ask questions to fully appreciate the life of the human book and promote a broader understanding between one individual and another. Human Libraries create an avenue for people to share their stories by creating a dialogue. This helps them to be better understood by the community, diminishing prejudice and discrimination.
Nearly half of the participants of the human library events said that it was an excellent start towards the community seeing the uniqueness of each individual and dispelling pre-conceived notions. 62% said that these sessions lead them to have a dialogue and interact with those people who they think are suppressed by society.
Readers noted that the most important experiences they gained from this program included acknowledging the existence of these communities, understanding the difficulties biases can cause other people, and listening to wonderful stories that changed their perspectives.
The human library becomes a safe space for persons who experience discrimination. One of the human book participants shared: "I felt excited, liberated, scared and vulnerable. I felt brave and devastated, which reflects my journey more than the event itself. At the event, there was a sense of community and I felt supported, I felt that these were the people who help me and steered me through my coming out experience. Which is now true - our queer community is glorious and gorgeous and beyond amazing. Yet, at the same time, I became worried about the homophobia that I might experience, which later proved to be a correct prediction. Overall though, I feel brave now. I was nervous, but now I am a bit more comfortable discussing my life as queer woman in Kazakhstan."