The Power of One on One: Human Libraries and the Challenges of Antiracism Work



Publication Details

Dreher, T. and Mowbray, J. (2012). The Power of One on One: Human Libraries and the Challenges of Antiracism Work. New South Wales: UTS Publishing.

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Additional Publication Information

This monograph is the first comprehensive and independent analysis of Human Libraries (formerly Living Libraries) in Australia. ‘Human Libraries’ refers to an innovative social inclusion community initiative developed in Europe that is increasingly being adopted by public libraries across Australia, and some community groups and government agencies. The report provides an overview of Human Library practices and identifies key challenges for policymakers and practitioners. It also contributes to scholarly debates on anti-racism work and on the benefits and limits of cross-cultural contact or dialogue within that work. ‘Human Libraries Australia’ is a national strategy for connecting and strengthening local communities through one-on-one conversation between Living Books (generally people facing prejudice within a community) and Readers (members of the general public). ‘Human Libraries Australia’ is funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and actively supported by the Australian Library and Information Association. In this monograph we document the aims, history and key practices of Human Libraries in Australia, and provide discussion points for people involved.


This research analyses Human Libraries as an innovative new antiracism strategy. The first Living Libraries began as community-led responses to local experiences of racism in the context of wider politics of fear and prejudice during the ‘war on terror’ both internationally – at the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark, and in Australia – at Lismore in northern NSW. While the aims and activities of Living Libraries have diversified as the concept has been widely applied, our research focuses on the original aims of addressing prejudice and racism. We analyse the achievements and limitations of Human Libraries as an antiracism strategy, and reflect on the pros and cons of the shifting aims of Living Library projects.

The framework for analysis was developed with reference to the scholarly literature on antiracism strategies, and on the possibilities and limitations of contact theory and storytelling techniques in particular. Here we focus on critiques of existing antiracism strategies in order to identify the key challenges for innovation.

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