Book shelves

The human library

The first iteration of the presentation that become “Community organizers” was titled “The library within us“. Motivated by the idea that outcomes – improving overall literacy and the ability to process news and information, as examples – should frame our approach to creating, managing and distributing content, I’d prepared “library” for the third Books in Browsers meeting in 2012.

“Library” a big idea, one I probably still am not ready to fully tackle. In its second incarnation, the presentation became “Community organizers“. Although the two talks overlap, the first remained about outcomes while the second evolved to propose a business model for publishers.

I’m still attracted to the ideas I tried to develop in “The library within us”, something evident in my reaction to a brief post that appeared earlier this year on Taxi (“Journaling ideas since 2003”). There, Dorothy Tan wrote “Human library loans out interesting people who would tell you stories“, in which she profiled a 13-year-old Danish NGO:

“Human Library” is a mobile library project started by a group of Danish youth activists back in 2000—the idea is to get together a diverse group of people and “loan” them out, in order to promote dialogue and understanding.

Agreed, there is no business model underpinning a non-profit aggregation of individuals willing to invest their time to help promote important social outcomes. These days, things do tend to run toward the business model first, to the at-least occasional detriment of good ideas.

If you read the comments that follow Tan’s post or click through to the “Human Library” site, you’ll see a number of ways in which the project and its participants touched someone else. Perhaps that’s not something we’ll ever be able to sustain. Consistent with the ideas I’d hope to synthesize in “library”, though, I’m taken with the idea that we can keep looking for a way to make outcomes the frame for business models, and not the other way around.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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