Lisa Lehmberg headshot
   Professor Lisa Lehmberg,
   Department of Music Education

Seeking to bring more personal connections and experiential learning into her online courses, Professor of Music Education Lisa Lehmberg was inspired by the Human Library project. In this non-profit learning platform, printed books are replaced with human ones: it’s a safe space where volunteer human ‘books’ –around the world–engage in both real-time and asynchronous dialogue with their readers. Rather than learn about global culture, history, or experience from books alone, people now have access to first-hand, primary resources–the people living these experiences. This access and experiential learning offers a practical, real-world context for learning, an learning opportunity that is essential in today's digital education landscape (Bates, 2015).

Why The Human Library

The Human Library Project
This Photo by Unknown Author
 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

For Prof. Lehmberg, who believes that merely reading about music education in countries outside the US doesn’t provide a deep-enough learning experience for the graduate students in her Music Education in a Global Context course, the human library has taken her students’ learning to the next level. They now can acquire knowledge through multiple, multi-sensory sources of evidence, such as talking directly with ‘culture bearers’ (and hearing their vocal inflections and seeing the expressions on their faces) and viewing culture bearers’ personal slides, photos, and videos. These first-hand accounts provide students with an "inside story" on the culture’s music education that can’t be gleaned from the available scholarly literature.

The Human Library creates space for dialogue and builds a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices. Dialogue-based learning can allow students to exercise their complex cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development (Magolda, 2000; Northfield & Sherman, 2004). Moreover, students actively construct their own knowledge rather than simply replicating what is available (Sambell et al., 2017). The Human Library provides Prof. Lehmberg’s students with a space for intercultural communication within the music context.

The Approach

Prof. Lehmberg utilizes the Human Library in her class in multiple ways. Expand each item to learn more about them.

The Impact

The students highly value their experiences with the Human Library: Dr. Lehmberg notices it’s meaningful to them to be present to hear the culture bearers speak and to have the opportunity to ask questions. They love interacting with people worldwide about their music education experiences, gaining first-hand knowledge and drawing similarities and differences across them.

For Dr. Lehmberg, the Human Library emphasizes:

  • The importance of making meaning with students by going beyond the White, Western-European-based perspective to access and include perspectives of non-White, non-Western musicians and music educators.
  • The importance of student choice and ownership of learning within any course context. 

The Challenge

While this project greatly enhances student engagement and breaks down cultural barriers, it comes with some challenges, such as identifying suitable/relevant 'human books', managing time zone differences, and ensuring funding. Yet, Dr. Lehmberg believes that the challenges outweigh the benefits. The project increased student engagement and learning ownership. It provided them with meaningful interactions with culture bearers. Most importantly, the Human Library is not just about facts or figures but about understanding the human stories behind them. It is transformative in that it is where learning becomes deeply personal, providing students with a scope for reflection on their worldviews (Mezirow, 1997).

Any recommendations?

For those interested in doing something similar, Prof. Lehmberg recommends the following:

  • If possible, secure funding to compensate the human books, who take their time to speak with your students, prepare slides, and/or read scholarly articles along with your class.
  • Bring in “human books” whenever possible to provide real-world, real-time perspectives of course topics.
  • Provide opportunities for students to take ownership of teaching and learning experiences when possible (e.g., class discussion leadership, meeting and planning with “human books” ahead of time; serving as “human books” on occasion).
  • Provide multiple ways for students to show their learning (e.g., course reading assignments, class discussion leadership, Padlet map curation, designing and completing a final project).
  • Enjoy learning together with “human books” and your students!

Prof. Lehmberg’s implementation of this project in her music education class stands as a testament to the power of innovative educational practices in fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of global perspectives. If you’re interested in implementing the Human Library or want to discuss more, you can reach Prof. Lehmberg at @email.  

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