and received a 2018 Super Librarian Award.
We struggle initially with the idea of a theme. The goal of the Human Library is to break down stereotypes by allowing patrons to have open, honest conversations. At a large, public or university library, you might have patrons who are veterans, who struggle with opiate addiction or homelessness, who are single parents on public assistance or undocumented immigrants, all of whom might be willing to share their stories. You might have management that could get on board with bringing these volunteers into conversations with the general public. It was trickier in a school setting. We needed to get our new and unfamiliar project approved by our administration and also didn’t want to put students into a potentially uncomfortable situation. In a bow to Fred Rogers, our theme would be getting to know our neighborhood. This seemed both innocuous and intriguing. Who was right inside our school or across the street and had a story to tell?
Together with my colleague Deeth Ellis, Amy, Wendy, and I brainstormed a list of potential “books.” We ended up with some in-house participants: our school police officer, our child psychologist and a staff member who was a former Peace Corps volunteer and world traveler. We looked out the windows; what was right across the street? We contacted Matt O’Malley, a BLS alum and the District 6 representative to the Boston City Council. Harvard Medical School, literally steps away, sent Dominic Hall, curator of Warren Anatomical Museum. Jess Francois, a volunteer coordinator for Rosie’s Place, was eager to speak with students about homeless women in Boston. Our first event featured over twenty “books.”
From the beginning, Amy and Wendy wanted to hold the event during the school day. Given the pressures of students’ long commute, homework and after school commitments, they proposed running the Human Library during four study halls over two days, closing the library during those times. We advertised the event in our daily announcements, went door-to-door to study halls to sign kids up and recruited students with signs around the school and in the library. We eventually welcomed about 120 “readers.”
We decided to go with a speed dating model for the program. Each student would get to speak with three books, rotating through the 47 minute period. We capped the maximum number of students with a book at three so that the conversations could stay intimate and honest. Some of our favorite responses from students after the event included:
- “Gentrification is ongoing and is driving minorities toward worse neighborhoods.”
- “In the past, people were more social, but technology has steadily led us to avoid person-to-person contact.”
- “What you study in college doesn't really determine what you end up doing in life.”
- “It turns out travel doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Although I was thrilled to watch Amy and Wendy march in their caps and gowns last June, I did feel some momentary panic about the future of the Human Library. But Shakira and Jess have already held their first meeting and Amy and Wendy (at BU and Simmons) have volunteered to come back as books for the 2019 Human Library. The theme for this year will be “Identity” and both are eager to discuss the experience of growing up Asian-American in this new century. We’re feeling more confident about having students share their stories with one another and more students, parents and faculty have come forward to volunteer themselves or people they know. As our community has become familiar with the concept, we look to it as an uplifting reminder that our students are eager participants in this world-wide movement for social change. The movement bills itself as “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered”, which actually sounds to me, like the very definition of a library.
For more specifics on how we “built” our Human Library as well as a planning timetable, please click on this link. You should also visit the Human Library website for helpful information and to register your event.