Human library creates living novels

Human library creates living novels

Human library creates living novels
March 26
00:10 2015

Kayleigh Bywater / Staff Writer

Willis Library has plenty of books, but next month, volunteers will represent prevalent issues in society as human books.

The third annual Human Library allows attendees to explore and understand different backgrounds, nationalities and groups of people. The event sheds light on the issues of diversity and stereotyping, with an emphasis on not judging a book by its cover. The Human Library will be open 1-8 p.m. on April 22 and 1-6 p.m. on April 23.

“The first Human Library was held by members of the Danish youth organization Stop the Violence at the Roskilde Festival in 2000 in Denmark,” research associate professor and event organizer Spencer Keralis said. “It is now operational in more than 60 countries, of course including UNT. This is one of the UNT Libraries’ capstone events for the whole school year.”

Keralis said the event is a way for people to open up their minds and defy their own misconceptions about certain groups.

“At the event, in 15 to 30-minute personal conversations, Human Books share their experiences as Latinos, gays, Muslims, persons with disabilities, police officers, African Americans, vegans and many other groups who are often misunderstood,” Keralis said. “The event is open to all students and members of the UNT community.”

To participate, those interested may sign up to be a human book or a volunteer during the event by contacting English graduate student and volunteer coordinator Jeanette Laredo. Anyone can come and “check out” a book that they want to delve in to, Laredo said.

“Unlike a real library where you can check out a book, our Human Library event allows people to interact with others who they may not normally speak with on a general basis,” Laredo said.

She said whether someone is a book or a spectator, all aspects of the event are unique.

“In order to be a book, people need to have some part of their identity where they have felt prejudiced,” Laredo said. “They choose what they want to speak to people about and what they want their book title to be. For example, we have volunteers already who have chosen titles such as ‘Sexual Assault Survivor’ and ‘Food Addict.’ I feel like I am curating books, but really it is human beings.”

In order to talk to the books you do not need to volunteer, Laredo said. Anyone can come to any session and browse through the human books as they would a normally do in a library. When someone sees a title that peaks their curiosity, they can speak to the books if they are available.

Volunteers walk around and are on the lookout during the event to make sure both the books and the readers are being treated fairly and with respect.

“We have to make sure that no matter what, people are having respectful conversations,” Laredo said. “This event is a sharing experience and not a way to promote ideas or convert people. We also want to make sure our books are not being bruised in the same way by harsh words or prejudice.”

Accounting and finance freshman Tristen Newman said allowing people to explore these books will hopefully make people more open-minded.

“Being stereotyped and judged is one of the hardest things a person can go through,” Newman said. “Events like this are ways to not only share your story but give those stereotypes an opportunity to express themselves and be accepted for who they are and not what they are seen to be.”

Although one purpose of the event is to allow the readers to learn more about a group or person they may not know much about, it also allows the human books to open up about their pasts.

“For those who have the constant fear of being judged or stereotyped, do not let that stop you,” Newman said. “Each person has an amazing story and they are who they are today because of it. People around them will seem them for who they really are.”

Laredo said although this event can be a great way for people to expand their knowledge and understanding of different cultures and lifestyles, it can also be challenging.

“Events like this are critical, especially on college campuses,” Laredo said. “College is a shock to the system. A lot of students that go here come from rural parts of Texas and do not have a lot of interaction with people outside of their comfort zone.”

For Keralis, he said he hopes people come out of the event more knowledgeable and understanding of the people meet in everyday life.

“A critical part of the college experience is meeting people who are radically different from you,” Keralis said. “It is so easy for marginalized groups to be dehumanized, and this event is meant to counteract that.”

With the event less than a month away, Laredo said she is excited to see what her first year as part of the Human Library will be like and is looking forward to seeing what effects it will have.

“We still have a long way to go,” Laredo said. “I want people to know that they are not just a category or a title. They are a person.”

Featured Image: Volunteer coordinator Jeanette Laredo explains the ideas behind the Human Library. The project is meant to teach students to treat people without judgement and minimize stereotypes. Photo by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer

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