When people go to the Dimenna-Nyselius Library, they typically expect to go to read books; however, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, people who went to the library had the opportunity to “read” humans instead during the second annual Human Library event.
According to the international organization’s website, the Human Library is “designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.”
Members of the Fairfield University community who volunteered to be “human books” told their stories to those who came to the library that day to be “readers.”
“When we were doing book recruitment, we advertised it specifically to people who have stories to tell about certain stereotypes they’ve faced or assumptions that they want to help break down,” said Justine Ferrara ‘18 who coordinated, planned and is assessing the results of the Human Library as part of her honors project.
“So we had books that told all different stories; there were stories about sexuality, about gender, about mental illness, about disability,” Ferrara continued. “There were all sorts of stories; it ran the gamut a little bit.”
The Human Library had two sessions on Wednesday, instead of taking place over two days like last year.; the first session was from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the second one was from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Senior Tori Marek, who participated in the event as a human book, commented, “I attended the event last year as a reader and thought that the Human Library is an amazing event. It’s so interesting to have deep and real conversations that one may not have the opportunity to talk about on an average day.”
Marek decided to share her story, called “The Hidden Me” this year.
“I talked about a bad car accident that I was in a few years ago and how I’ve overcome the struggles that came from it. Some of my readers had friends who had also been in car accidents so they wanted to hear more about my perspective on it,” said Marek. “Sharing my experience with others was awesome and I would definitely do something like this again.”
Junior Gabriella Prignano, who was also a human book, agreed with this sentiment.
“I would love to be a book again. Talking about my story is a great method of personal reflection and it helps me get to know others that have similar stories, as well as learn from others that have different stories,” said Prignano. “I would absolutely recommend being a book to other students.”
Last year, the library hosted its first ever Human Library event after Reference & Instruction Librarian Barbara Ghilardi brought the idea to her colleagues in late 2015, when she heard about the University of Omaha Nebraska’s Human Library.
“My colleague Jackie Kremer and I discussed it further in early 2016 knowing we loved the idea of the event and wanted to find a way to make it a reality at Fairfield,” said Ghilardi. “We thought the event was the right way for the library to add to the University’s mission.”
Referencing the survey many of the books and readers took after participating in the event, Ghilardi explained that 100 percent of books agreed or strongly agreed that “through my conversations I feel I opened the readers’ eyes to other experiences, perspectives and worldviews that they were unaware of before.” Ghilardi went on to explain that 94 percent of readers agreed or strongly agreed that “through my conversations, my eyes were opened to other experiences, perspectives and worldviews that I was unaware of before.”
Marek recommends being both a book and a reader to gain these kinds of perspectives.
“I recommend others to be a book if they have a story that they are willing and brave enough to share,” commented Marek. “If not, attending the event is guaranteed to be an incredible and moving experience for all.”
Ghilardi commented on the importance of the event.
“What I love about the Human Library is it not only gives our books the platform to talk about stereotypes and barriers they have faced but gives the readers the chance to connect to these stories whether they personally identify with them or have never been exposed to them before,” said Ghilardi.
“I think it is important to continue to have events at Fairfield where we can grow and learn together through the power of conversation,” she continued.
Freshman Megan Beauregard, who attended the event, agreed with this sentiment.
“I think the event was successful in achieving its purpose,” said Beauregard. “It was eye-opening to the different experiences people endure. I learned a lot about identity and gained more perspective on things I thought I knew a lot about already.”
The event, according to Ghilardi and Ferrara, was a marked success, with almost 100 more attendees this year from last year; there were 41 books and over 500 readers.
Some changes from last year’s event included the fact that the Writing Center partnered with the library to help craft the stories told by the human books and also, there was a Snapchat filter created for the day of the event, according to Ghilardi.
Graduate Assistant at the Writing Center Marc Lee ‘17 spoke on helping the books.
“It was a very rewarding experience for everyone involved — the books left with confident looks on their faces and the tutors all got to help be a part of the event in an important way,” Lee said.
“Being able to help bring out the stories of others, especially when those stories are as powerful as the ones showcased at the Human Library event, is an opportunity that is far too rewarding for all involved to ever pass on,” he continued.
Senior Sarah Foley, who attended the Human Library event, commented on it.
“A good number of my friends had been selected to be books, so I went to support them and their stories, knowing that sharing their life experiences was important to them,” said Foley. “I thought the event was an excellent way for students to share their individual and unique perspectives with those willing to listen.”
Ferrara contemplated the importance of the event.
“To have it on Fairfield’s campus is really important because it promotes conversation between people who might not have those conversations and it helps open people’s eyes to new perspectives as well as understanding about their own identities or perspectives,” said Ferrara.