People read people at Human Library

Human Library ‘book’ Scott talks about life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease with a reader at the 2018 Human Library. — Janet Crystal photo
Human Library ‘book’ Scott talks about life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease with a reader at the 2018 Human Library. — Janet Crystal photo

Instead of being printed on a page, the words of 20 books were spoken during Wilton Library’s Human Library event on March 24. That’s because the books were people, and nearly 300 people came to read them.

With the theme of Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, the Human Library is a program where two people may engage in a brief but meaningful conversation. For readers, the intent is to help dispel prejudices people may form based on someone’s appearance or identity, such as their religion, profession, or sexual orientation. For “books,” in many cases, it was to help erase the stigma of an experience or a disease.

The Bulletin agreed to refer to people by their first names only. Many of the conversations with books were cut short because librarians kept retrieving them for readers. One popular human book was Scott, who is coping with a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“I always felt you have to be involved,” he said when talking about the diagnosis he got eight years ago. Alzheimer’s used to be an “old-timer’s disease,” he said, but he is proof that is not necessarily so. “It’s not part of the [normal] aging process,” he said, but it is becoming an “epidemic that will bankrupt Medicare unless we slow it down. We have to give voice to that.

The people who checked Scott out, he said, tend to be worried they or a loved one may suffer from the disease and they don’t know what to do.

On a one-to-one basis, they feel more comfortable asking hard questions. He encourages getting a diagnosis as soon as possible. “You can learn coping skills,” he said. “There is a stigma,” he said, “and it’s unfair. There shouldn’t be.”

Mary-Megan is a survivor of sexual assault. Why did she want to talk about it?

“I believe it’s critical to ending sexual assault, to knock down the stigma,” she said. “If we talk about it more, hopefully the less it will happen.”

One of the questions she often gets is how to support someone who has been assaulted. Listening is one way.

“I survived by talking to a lot of people about it,” she said, adding she also went to therapy.

It happened while she was at college in 2009. “I started talking a few weeks after and never shut up about it,” she said, adding, she’s “sure people want me to stop talking about it.”

The readers were equally enthusiastic as a long checkout line formed.

“It’s an opportunity to talk to people willing to open up about their issues and their challenges,” a woman named Julie said.

An anonymous comment from a survey the library distributed said, “I feel this event increases human contact, understanding. It’s through understanding that we can unite.”

Pat from Shelton, who was told about the event by her sister, read three books. In reading about the event she caught herself as she was looking at one of the books, a woman with a heavy metal vibe.

“I said to myself, ‘Why did I do that?’” she said. So she came and talked with her. “I needed to remind myself that I judged somebody,” something she said she hates in other people. She learned that for the woman, a former paramedic, her appearance is just a preference, not a particular statement.

She said the event “was a wonderful experience. I am so glad we came.”

Melissa Baker, one of the organizers of the event, said the library plans to offer the program again.