IMAGINE if instead of reading a book or turning to the internet to learn about a new subject, you could talk to someone about their own experience instead.

That's exactly what you can do at a Human Library, a phenomena which is growing in popularity, with two 'library' events being held in Winchester later this month.

At the Winchester events, there will be a range of human 'books' on offer, including the titles anxiety, vegan, home educator, hunt saboteur, OCD, borderline, African-American, autistic, Muslim, homeless, adopted and trans.

Olena Waskiewicz, organiser of the Human Libraries at Winchester, explains more.

"To me, the Human Library is all about creating a safe and inviting space for dialogue, and bringing people from all walks of life into the conversation" she says.

"It's the space where you can ask a Mormon about being a missionary; talk to a Muslim about wearing a headscarf in the UK.

"You can talk to a transgender person about growing up, hormones, surgery and being called names in the street, hear a story of a refugee and learn about their life in the UK, discuss mental health issues with someone who is bipolar, depressed or has OCD, and learn first-hand about the struggles they face on day-to-day basis. You can talk to an immigrant and find out how they feel seeing the newspaper headlines that vilify them, find out from a non-binary person how they discovered that this is their identity, and why pronouns matter so much to them.

"You can ask any question, but be prepared to get asked questions back, and have your own prejudices challenged."

The idea of the Human Library was first developed in Denmark in 2000, and has since then been active in almost 80 countries across the globe, from Sweden, Poland and the USA to Kazakhstan, India and Australia. It's a library where 'books are people, and reading is a conversation'.

Visitors to the Human Library can choose from a selection of titles and have a half-hour conversation with a human book volunteer.

All questions are allowed, so the 'reader' can delve directly into the human books' life experience and the prejudice that they have experienced because of who they are.

The titles may relate to racial or ethnic identity, sexuality and gender, religion, occupation, lifestyle, disability and health and life experiences and traumas.

Olena has already organised a number of Human Library events in Winchester.

She says: "The most amazing conversations can happen when you get such a diverse range of people into one room.

"Because we are all meeting in those special circumstances, when normal societal norms of small talk and not asking personal questions are temporarily suspended, people feel safe opening up.

"At the same time, they know that they can ask very direct questions and really try to understand each other's perspective.

"There's also always a lot of conversation happening in the background, when 'books' 'take each other out' in an informal way, which leads to very interesting discussions!"

The next Human Library events in Winchester are on March 22 at the University of Winchester and March 23 at Winchester Discovery Centre, from noon to 4pm.

For more information, search for Human Library Winchester on Facebook, or email