People getting a chance to share their stories as if they are books for another to read is something that does not happen often. However, Fairfield students were given the opportunity to experience just that at the Human Library event at the DiMenna Nyselius Library on Nov. 9 and 10.
The event is worldwide and began in Denmark in 2000. It was hosted in 30 different countries since its inception and is a worldwide success.
According to their website, “The Human Library is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.”
The Human Library at Fairfield had over 400 student attendees as readers, according to Head of Library Academic Partnerships and Assessment Jacalyn Kremer. This semester was the first time that the event was held at Fairfield.
Of the 43 books, 29 were undergraduate students, five were graduate students, one was a faculty member and eight were staff members.
According to a survey of readers administered by the library that was taken at the end of the event, 97 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their eyes were opened to someone’s experiences that they were previously unaware of.
Senior Sarah Dubissette, who participated in the event as a reader, said, “The Human Library gave me the chance to get to know a friend on a deeper level. From a story that took place this year I learned about her future aspirations, relationship with her family and friends, and culture.
I think it’s pretty cool that she would share that with the Fairfield community.”
“The Human Library shows that everyone has a story to tell and you can learn something new about the world if you take the time to listen,” Dubissette added.
Junior Tori Marek, who was also a reader, commented, “I was nervous at first. I didn’t know if it would be too personal to ask certain questions, but everything really flowed and it was really interesting. I never felt like we ran out of anything to talk about because there’s so much to know and the fact that everyone has their own story, it’s so cool to hear about it.”
Marek enjoyed the event so much that she went back to loan out an additional human book after speaking with the first one and said that if the library does the same event next year, she would be interested in being a book.
These kind of reactions seemed to be the norm, according to Kremer, who saw a great response from both books and readers.
“[The response] far exceeded anything we thought would happen,” said Kremer. “We have 43 books. So that’s 43 people from our community who wanted to talk about their identity. [For readers] we had people who came yesterday and then they came back today and waited in line twice just to talk to different people.”
Freshman Amira Ebrahim, a Muslim who immigrated to the United States from Egypt when she was a year old, participated in the event as a human book.
Ebrahim offered an explanation as to why she decided to be a book and share her story.
“I feel like there is a lot of tension these days … So I figure if I can get at least one person to know what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who is not like themselves, then I would accomplish something,” said Ebrahim.
According to Ebrahim, she had a basic plan for what she was going to say to each reader. Every conversation started the same, but they went in different directions depending on what most interested the readers.
“I also did not anticipate so many people wanting to talk about the election and how I feel I will be impacted, but I took the question on and hopefully I gave an answer that is representative of most people who share my identity,” said Ebrahim. “Overall, it was a very insightful experience where I ended up learning a lot from the readers and hopefully they learned something from me too.”
According to Reference and Instruction Librarian Barbara Ghilardi, the event came to Fairfield after she had heard about a Human Library event at another library and became interested.
“I saw [the event] on social media and I thought it sounded really cool. I sent the email to a bunch of colleagues and we thought it was a great idea to bring to campus,” said Ghilardi.
“We got people from the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Service Learning, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Marketing and Communications, Center for Faith and Public Life, and the Office of Student Engagement [to back the event],” Ghilardi added.
Kremer said, “After the ‘ghetto party,’ the library really wanted to do something that would help our community talk about the differences that we have and learn a bit more from each other. So that was the impetus of how this got started. We really wanted to respond to that in a positive way.”
Sophomore Margaret Moore, who has cerebral palsy, decided to be a human book to talk about her disability and how she has overcome obstacles.
Moore said, “I hope [readers] learned how much disabled people can do and by learning about the obstacles that I have had to overcome, I hope that they learn that regardless of whether you have a disability, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”
“Telling my story to the University community was an amazing experience and I’m hoping that they have it again next year because I would love to participate,” continued Moore.
Junior Emily Gaudet, who participated as a book, talked about getting her heartbroken after she was broken up with on an airplane after a four-year long relationship with no explanation why.
“I believe my story will inspire men and women who have had their heart broken,” said Gaudet. “I think I can inspire people by showing them that there is life after lost love. In the moment, your world seems to come crashing down, but day by day it gets better. I want to show people the value of learning to love yourself instead of searching for someone else to love.”
“I think it is good for Fairfield to have events like this,” Gaudet continued. “It gives everyone a chance to learn more about each other, where we come from and relate to each other’s story of sadness and happiness. It helps us bond as a community and will hopefully keep people more open-minded.”