Human Library in St Petersburg faces administrative restrictions for the first time

A foreign volunteer tells his story as one of the "books" of the Human Library of St Petersburg. (Photo credit: Alexander Gudkovsky)

The Human Library in St Petersburg organises events to get people from conflicting backgrounds or lifestyles to share their stories, from a Russian perspective. Now, they face governmental restrictions for their upcoming event.

The civil organisation Human Library in St Petersburg was about to have its 10th event on 20 November at the state library, Lenin Library. In the run-up to the event, the coordinator Boris Romanov received a message from the Lenin Library administration who listed hesitations about certain “books”. Books for the Human Library are people who represent a subgroup—such as feminists, environmental activists, transgenders or vegans (Read about it in our previous story).

The library administration stated: “There were hesitations about four books: sex worker, childfree, ex-prisoner and homosexual. We would be very grateful if you could accept our intolerance regarding this issue and these books were not there.”

The organisers of the Human Library stated that they have never had problems before, especially because their events have an age restriction of 18 years.

The National Library of Russia, or Lenin Library, is the oldest public library in the country. Their last event in September at the state-owned Mayakovsky Library  did not face any administrative involvement. Boris Romanov is the main coordinator of the Human Library in St Petersburg and describes the decision of the Lenin Library as discriminating: “We will continue our work in other venues, which are independent from [the] discriminatory state.”

“Mayakovsky library is subordinate to another structure. They are subordinate to the Culture committee. And we are subordinate directly to the Petrograd district administration“, Margaret Alex, coordinator for the educational programmes of the Lenin Library, explains how these restrictions come about.

Check out the Facebook post from Human Library St Petersburg below:

The Human Library organisers question the restrictions.

“The representative of administration of Petrograd district says that our “topics” are on the border of legislation. I think they mean legislation against ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual and family relationships’. But our event is 18-plus,” explains Romanov. He fears governmental influence for adult education, “we know about this stupid law. Maybe administration will now also control adults? What kind of information do adults consume? Could they meet anyone who they want or not? I think administration will control adults like children.”

Human Library St Petersburg is a civil, non-governmental organisation with the aim of fostering discussion by creating a living library: no books in shelves, but real people who tell their stories. Different people become books and represent homosexuals, migrant workers, single mothers, foreign agents and many more and visitors as the readers can join discussions. The Human Library in St Petersburg will continue its work—also in state-owned public places.

“We want to change the structural discrimination in the state spaces in school, libraries, youth centres, centres for family and seniors,” Romanov adds.

Their main goal is to create stronger awareness on social and political topics that are barely covered in public discussion in Russia tackling intolerance, discrimination and stereotypes.

The next Human Library in St Petersburg event is on 20 November at Time Hall Work & Play (Sadovaya street 12) from 3pm to 8pm.

(Updated with quotes and details of next event on 30 Oct)

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