Wilton's Human Library replaces pages with people
For one day, 26 uniquely personalized “books” were available in Wilton Library, and over 100 people came to read them.
The Human Library returned to Wilton for the second year in a row on March 23. The program allows two people to engage in what’s envisioned as a meaningful conversation to relay firsthand experiences. People are introduced as “books” to readers and through discussion stigmas around certain experiences can be erased.
With the theme of “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover,” the Human Library sought to dispel prejudices people form based on a litany of reasons. Event organizer Susan Lauricella said this year they streamlined things even better.
“The readers really get into the story,” Lauricella said. “We try to keep it going so everyone gets a chance.”
She said the Human Library was one of the best things she’s ever been involved with. She added that she hopes to see other libraries join in hosting the event.
“It’s human connection and it’s people understanding other people’s stories,” Lauricella said.
Volunteers worked to ensure every reader got an opportunity to speak to a book of his or her choice. Human book Donald Overton said the event provided an opportunity for participants to ask questions in a safe space.
“It really helps to knock down the walls that have served to really isolate us across time,” he said.
Overton was blinded in combat in 1991 while serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“About nine months into deployment, close to the end of the ground defensive against Saddam’s Republican Guard, I went into a bunker complex that was detonated,” Overton recalled.
Due to the extent of the damage, he was put into a medically induced coma. When he awoke, his sight was gone. He said his transition back was much more unique and difficult than a normal transition after deployment.
“It was a journey over time of learning new skills,” Overton said. “First learning how to walk with a cane, then eventually being partnered with a guide dog.”
While technology improvements have made life easier for the blind, they are still often relegated to the shadows of society, he said.
“People can be scared to approach a blind person,” Overton said.
Since then, Overton has worked to build bridges between communities and raise awareness of the challenges both veterans and blind people face. This includes helping older veterans transition into new phases in their lives and setting up mentorships for the younger generation.
“As a young member of the military transitions back home, we try to be there for them. We try to welcome them back and serve kind of as a big brother,” Overton said.
Human book Victor Borden was born in Palestine two months prior to the end of World War II. Borden gave readers insight on the very real consequences of anti-Semitism towards the Jewish community.
“There’s several definitions to anti-Semitism. One is the hatred of someone who is Jewish,” he said. “Another is the elimination of the Jewish race, which is what anti-Semitism was with Nazi Germany.”
Borden was born to two parents who both survived the Holocaust. His grandparents and several other relatives were killed in the horrific incident. He recalled how he was treated differently while growing up. Once in medical school a classmate placed his hand on his head to feel for horns after discovering Borden was Jewish.
“He had never met a Jew before,” Borden said. “I was the first Jew he had met in his life.”
He said even with the passage of time, anti-Semitism is still a real problem. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said there was a 57% rise in hate-crime incidents.
“It’s not just against Jews,” he added noting the recent mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand.
As part of his discussion with readers, Borden carried a book with over 1,200 pages. On each page the word Jew is written 4,800 times. The book serves as a visual for readers to understand how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
“It gives you a visual idea of what six million means,” he said. “We can say six million, but it’s hard to really understand.”