Human Book Club for Healthcare Learners

Paula Elliott
Library Manager
Education Centre
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust
Minerva Road


A Human Book Club event was held to help student nurses and Trainee Nursing Associates gather evidence for the communication section of their portfolios.  The Human Book Club provided an opportunity for healthcare learners to get a better understanding of how an individual’s culture, social identity and expressed beliefs impact on the choices they make about their care and treatment.  ‘Titles’ included learning disability, gay man with HIV and transgender.  17 ‘readers’ and 5 ‘books’ took part, holding 15 minute conversations with each other in a ‘speed dating‘ format. The feedback was extremely positive, with both readers and books rating the event highly.

Keywords: Equality; Communication; Pre-reg students

Previously on Human Library…

The aim of the Human Library movement is to promote social inclusion, and challenge prejudice and stereotyping. The organisation was founded in Denmark in 2000 by a group of students, and events have been hosted in an estimated 70 countries around the world. The methodology and language of a library is used as a framework to promote respectful conversations between the ‘books’ and ‘readers’ who take them out on loan.(Human Library 2017)

In January 2015, a Health Education England (HEE) Forerunner Fund application was approved to deliver Human Library events in a healthcare setting.  Lead by Clare Inkster (Associate Dean, HEE NW), two events were hosted by Bolton NHS Foundation Trust  in May 2016 to coincide with NHS England’s Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week.(Elliott, Inkster 2016)

The events took place at Royal Bolton Hospital and Bolton One, a multi-purpose building in Bolton town centre, accommodating health services, a pharmacy and public swimming pool.

Part of the philosophy of the Human Library organisation is that the events should not be themed, as one of the core principles is to promote inclusion. Books were recruited to cover a wide range of protected characteristics and many non-protected characteristics (such as body modification, subculture and stigmatised professions).

Following the Human Library format, all books came to a training session which covered a brief introduction to the Human Library ethos and methodology and a discussion of the rights of books and readers, ground rules, and bias and prejudice in general. Books discussed ideas for questions which would be good conversation openers in the event that readers did not open conversations themselves. Books then had an opportunity to take each other out on loan, to practise conversations and get to know each other. Finally, books discussed what titles they would like to use and gave their availability. The session finished with questions and answers.

On the day of the events, the room décor, ‘issue desk’ and seating were all set up prior to the start time. Books were welcomed and seated together in the area known as the ‘book shelf’. As potential readers arrived, they were welcomed by volunteers and librarians, and were able to choose from the range of books that were currently available.

Once they had made their choice, they were given a library card, and taken to meet their book. Both were seated in an area known as the ‘reading room’, close to the book shelf. The rights of the book and the reader were read to both of them for each loan. Each loan was recorded by the librarian. If the loan was still ongoing after 30 minutes, the librarian asked both participants to bring the conversation to a close. Readers could then either take out a further book, or fill out an evaluation form before leaving.

A total of 25 books were able to attend at least one of the three sessions. Across the two days there were 78 documented loans and conversations lasted anywhere from 5 minutes to over 30.

Learning lessons from these events, subsequent events have moved away from the official Human Library methodology, which requires a lot of planning, organisation and resource leading up to and on the day(s).

During debriefing sessions, the Clinical Librarian suggested the concept might help students gather meaningful evidence for the communication element of their portfolios.

Latest episode…

Once the ‘speed dating’ concept had been thought of, the Library Manager contacted Steph Jolly (Practice Education Facilitator) and Lenny St Jean (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead) to see if they would be interested in organising an event.  An initial meeting took place at the beginning of August 2017 and subsequent planning took place mainly by e-mail.  The venue was booked for the afternoon of 23rd October and books and readers were signed up by 11th October. 

The readers had an introductory session to explain the idea and how it would work.  They were then spilt into groups of 3.  The books had previously taken part in Human Library training sessions or events, so were well prepared.  ‘Titles’ included learning disability, gay man with HIV and transgender. 

Books were allocated a table and the groups of readers were assigned to a book randomly.  Each table had a copy of the ‘rights of the book’ and the ‘rights of the reader’ which set the ground rules for the conversations.

After 15 minutes, the first conversations were brought to an end and the readers moved on to the next book.  The second conversation started and after 15 minutes the process was repeated until all readers had visited every book.

There was a refreshment break half way through.

Everyone was asked to complete a short evaluation questionnaire before leaving.

The reviews are in…

“Absolutely fantastic. Everybody should do this, not just students.”

“Make the Human Library mandatory or part of training in the NHS.”

“Needs to be longer. More time with everyone.”

This is a selection of 14 comments received about the event.  Asked to rate the event overall, ‘It was good, I liked it’ appeared twice and all other 15 respondents replied ‘It was excellent, I loved it’.  This is consistent with evaluations from the Human Library events run previously. 

All the students agreed or strongly agreed that the event was a good way to improve their communication skills.  All the books strongly agreed with this.

Asked ‘How will you change the way you communicate with patients following this event?’ all the students came up with at least one thing they would do.

Coming soon…

Dates will be fixed for quarterly events during 2018 so that other student groups can benefit.  More time will be allocated for the conversations.

One of these events might take the form of a ‘Knowledge Café’, with specialist staff invited to hold conversations.


Elliott, P. & Inkster, C. 2016, “Human Library – where reading is a conversation”, HLG Newsletter, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 14-16.

Human Library. 2017, The Origin of the Human Library. Available:

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