The DiMenna-Nyselius Library hosted their fifth annual version of the Human Library here at Fairfield University. This event, which occurred on Friday, Oct. 23 via Zoom, allowed participants, who were the “books,” to share their unique stories with readers in private, one-on-one settings.
The Human Library is an official organization that started in 2000 and operates in 80 countries worldwide. The movement’s core goal is social change, exhibited through their slogan “unjudge somebody.”
The event’s dynamics allow people who want to tell their stories to act as “books” and the attendees listening as “readers.” Students, faculty and various other members of the Fairfield community partake in this event in order to tell personal stories that they feel address stereotypes and prejudices.
Fairfield usually hosts hundreds of readers for this event, but the logistics of virtual interaction limited this year’s number to 50 attendees dispersed throughout Zoom breakout rooms. During 20 minute periods in these rooms, books shared their stories while encouraging their readers to engage with thoughtful questions and dialogue.
“Yes, this is still another online event, but it is a real, one-on-one authentic conversation, and I don’t know how often you find those kinds of dialogues and safe spaces,” said co-chair of the event and student engagement and outreach librarian, Lisa Thornell. “It felt important in an election year and in wake of everything that happened this summer with George Floyd. This wasn’t the year to take a break.”
Thornell highlighted the death of George Floyd, which ignited nationwide racial injustice protests and conversations, because the Human Library aims to address the core stereotypes and biases which undermine these kinds of social inequalities.
Race, ethnicity and immigration were some of the general subjects mentioned in this event, but sexual orientation, gender identity and religion were also discussed in both separate and overlapping instances. The central focus of the entire event was that no one experience fits into a monolithic, straightforward template.
The Book “Constant Journey” spoke about life as a refugee from Iraq, but only readers of this Book could learn its details. Though people may think they understand Iraqi refugees as a group, the Book stressed how this group consists of drastically varying ethnicities, cultures and religions.
“An American Tale: How individual effort and community support helped one kid do well” further explains the idea that behind every story, there exists an array of factors which make each person and their experiences completely unique. In this case, a college professor of over 25 years explained his account of being a first-generation college student who has traversed all around the country throughout his journey.
The Books telling their stories had certain stereotypes they wanted to address, ranging from culture to disability. However, much of their actual interaction with the reader depended upon the participation provided by the reader.
“Everytime the Book tells their story it’s a little different because they’re talking to a different person and that person has different questions or different things they want to share,” said Thornell.
The virtual format of the event certainly provided a different experience, and despite widespread skepticism, the organizers received really positive feedback.
“I think it went really well!” said the other co-chair, assessment librarian Barbara Ghilardi. “As I was monitoring the Zoom room today, every time the Books and readers would return there were smiles on their faces. One Book told me she felt this event really gave her a chance to connect to others on a more personal level, something she feels she hasn’t been able to do as much this semester.”