Libraries are repositories of books, but Wilton Library is planning an event where the books are actually people. It’s the Human Library, where a group of people may be “checked out” to tell their stories. People with a story to tell are invited to apply to join the “collection.”
The program, scheduled for March 24, is being spearheaded by Teen Services & Makerspace Manager Susan Lauricella and Melissa Baker, media and digital services librarian. The two attended a Human Library event in the fall of 2016 at Fairfield University and were “blown away by the experience,” Lauricella told The Bulletin.
“We started thinking seriously about doing it ourselves,” she said.
Human Library began in Denmark in 2000, and Wilton Library is the first non-academic library in Connecticut to receive permission to offer a Human Library event. The program provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for people who have encountered prejudice (a “human book”) to talk one-on-one with people interested in learning more about their challenges (the “readers”).
The program allows people to sit down and have a dialogue, Lauricella said, perhaps leading a reader to think, “This type of person is not what I imagined them to be.”
At the Fairfield event, the women spoke with a young woman who had not been able to come out about her sexuality with her family or her small-town community. They also met a young man with schizophrenia and learned about the challenges he has faced.
“You can meet people, ask questions, and hear stories you might never hear,” Baker said.
The library has a number of human books lined up willing to talk about depression, mental illness, anti-Semitism and immigration to the United States in the 1930s, discrimination based on appearance, adult ADHD, race relations, younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, surviving cancer and a coma, navigating the ABC program, being a follower of Christ, and raising a special needs child.
The program, not surprisingly, will be similar in many ways to a traditional library. Books may be checked out for 15 minutes, holds may be placed on books that are already checked out, and books must be returned in the same condition as received.
Telling a story
The books who are participating may be found on the library’s website, www.wiltonlibrary.org, along with a brief synopsis of their stories. Their names are omitted, although some may be familiar members of the community.
With about 11 people signed up, Lauricella and Baker are seeking more people. They hope to have as many as 20. There is an application process.
Potential books must have a story that involves being misunderstood in some way by others. They must be willing to talk about challenges or prejudices they’ve experienced.
“People who have faced challenges based on their experiences or identity — based on stereotypes or preconceived notions,” Baker said.
The program will run four hours, and books must commit to participate for at least two hours. Books must be at least 18 years old. The application deadline is the end of this month. Applications are on the library’s website. Click on The Human Library icon on the home page. Questions may be addressed to Lauricella at [email protected] or Baker at [email protected].
Both librarians are excited about the program’s possibilities.
“The books we’ve dealt with so far, their stories are just incredible,” Lauricella said.
The goal, Baker said, is “more understanding, more compassion.”