Last Saturday at a Human Library event in Fields Corner, an interested “reader” chats with a “human book,” who identified himself as “The Smartest Dummy,” sharing his experiences of being discriminated against in the 1970’s when he was told that black people like him were genetically incapable of learning. He now teaches a variety of classes. Photo courtesy of Thang Ho
Last Saturday, “checking out” a book took on a double meaning as Write on the Dot (WotD), the Dorchester reading series hosted by UMass Boston’s Creative Writing MFA students, successfully presented the first Human Library event in Massachusetts.
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., visitors to the Boston Public Library’s Fields Corner branch were invited to spend 15 minutes in dialogue with any one of the human books – local volunteers who were open to sharing their stories of being discriminated against and to comparing notes on those experiences with curious readers. Titles included “Woman with Asperger’s”… “The Very Short Person,” … “Growing up Black in Boston,” and “The Impatient Patient: A Male Survivor Story.”
Given the relaxed library environment, the speed-dating format, and cordial coordinators (including branch librarian Emily Todd), any ice was quickly broken, and the three hours flew by.
The Human Library (aka Living Library) movement started in Denmark in 2000 as way to curb youth violence. It has since grown into an international project to counteract prejudice and promote compassion between people of all kinds. Some cities around the world have permanent, award-winning libraries. The first Human Library in the US was held in Santa Monica in 2009.
WotD‘s Lynn Holmgren explains how the local project began: “I first read about The Human Library in Poets and Writers magazine. I am a huge fan of libraries and live storytelling, so I was immediately sold on the idea of combining the two. As a shy person I often find it difficult to initiate conversation with strangers (or even acquaintances) outside of a structured context like work or school. There is always the anxiety that unbidden curiosity could cause confusion or even anger.
“So organizing a Human Library was a personal challenge to explore this fear, and I had a gut faith that the project would produce similar challenges and revelations for everyone involved.”
WotD’s Elysia Smith confessed that she felt “incredibly nervous” about co-organizing the inaugural Dorchester event with Holmgren, but she felt well rewarded afterward. “All the human books and readers engaged with such vitality that I was moved in ways I had not expected. More than that, the friendships forged in those three hours seem built on such a fluid, forgiving, and fundamentally human foundation that I believe will spawn all the more collaboration for the neighborhood of Dorchester.”
Several attendees managed to browse all seven books in succession. But books and patrons alike ended up on the same page by the end of the afternoon. Many participants exchanged emails so that conversations that had barely got started could continue.
Books were given a certificate of appreciation, a t-shirt and a discount coupon for the Dot to Dot Café bookstore. Fields Corner Domino’s donated a variety of pies for a post-event processing party.
Other BPL branch libraries are considering hosting Human Library events. Write on the Dot is already planning an even bigger event for 2016. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.