Human Recovery Library

A library that offers understanding with humans ‘on loan’ for conversation.

A person can be “lent out” to talk about recovery. —Allison Roberts

The West Tisbury library welcomed community members to their first Human Recovery Library program (HRL) this summer. HRL aims to challenge stereotypes and the intolerance often associated with addiction and the recovery process. During the program, a variety of folks who have been impacted by addiction were “lent out” for conversations. The idea is that attendees can “borrow” a member for 10 to 15 minutes and engage in a one-on-one conversation about their experience.

HRL is similar to the International Human Library, an organization founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000. The Human Library’s goal is to help people explore their assumptions and prejudices by providing them with opportunities to talk to people they might not normally meet. They have volunteers from a variety of often marginalized groups available to be “lent,” including refugees, amputees, folks in the LGBTQ community, those dealing with mental health issues, homeless folks, and people from a variety of religious backgrounds. Just as the Human Library provides a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered, the Human Recovery program does so as well. HRL is the brainchild of Red House Peer Recovery Support Center program coordinator David Ferguson, who was working at Ghost Island Farm when he first came up with the idea.

“I approached Beth Kramer, who was the director of the West Tisbury library at the time, about a recovery library. She said, ‘Yeah! You want to do it?’ And I said, ‘No!’” Ferguson laughed. “At that point, I just didn’t have the time, but when I started working at Red House, the idea clicked. I was looking for a bridge between the Red House and the broader community.”

One of the main goals of HRL is to normalize recovery. People in recovery experience prejudice, social exclusion, and stigma on an ongoing basis. Many folks can benefit from the program — not just those in recovery. It can be a useful tool for sober-curious people, and for those who don’t battle with addiction themselves, but are impacted by family members, friends, and colleagues who are struggling with addiction. It’s also a powerful community builder, creating a space for anyone in the community to meet new people, listen and learn, and become more aware of their assumptions.

“HRL is very new, and with any new thing, there is hesitancy, but many folks are on board. Being honest is important,” Ferguson said. “I do respect people’s decision to remain anonymous — I understand it — but there is also strength and power in owning our issues. Anyone can come to our HRL program, listen to someone share their experiences, and become more open.”

Though the program is organized by the Red House Peer Recovery Support Center, the first HRL program was hosted by the West Tisbury library. “The Human Library program is one that has always interested me, so it was exciting to be able to host one, especially focusing on addiction and recovery, issues that are so stigmatized and rarely discussed openly. I am thankful to David and all the ‘books’ in the Human Recovery Library for taking the time to do this, to be vulnerable and honest about issues that can be so hard to talk about,” said West Tisbury library director Alexandra Pratt.

Though HRL is still in its infancy, Ferguson hopes it will continue to grow. “I’m so grateful to Alexandra for agreeing to host our first program,” Ferguson said. “It was very promising, and we’ve got another one slated for September. There is perceived shame around issues related to addiction, especially in small towns. It’s no different here. People don’t want to “out” themselves — ‘Who’s going to see me, be there, talk about me …’ The reality is that anyone who walks in the door for this program will be embraced.”

The Red House offers a safe and inclusive environment, and encourages and supports all paths of recovery. The HRL program is free and open to the public. It’s important to note, however, that this kind of support is available anytime. “Anyone from the community can call us up and ask to talk to someone about being a dry drunk, about medically assisted treatment, or to simply to hear someone share their experience with addiction,” Ferguson said. “So much of this hinges on community engagement.”

The next Human Recovery Library is Thursday, Sept. 14, from 1 to 5:30 pm, at the West Tisbury library. For more information on the Human Recovery Library, please email, or Dave Ferguson at