Good books help us ‘lose ourselves’ in the pages of someone else’s story. But they also do something far more profound, according to many studies that evidence the process of reading is transformative.
Reading, it seems, has the ability to help us better understand and interact with others, increases our empathy and understanding of things greater than ourselves and allows us to feel ‘connected’ with others and a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Thanks to an innovative program coined the ‘Human Library,’ Flint and Genesee County residents will soon have an opportunity get lost in tales that look and feel very, very real —because they are real.
The concept is fairly simple.
At a Human Library, instead of checking out books, patrons can “check-out” people, according to event organizers at the Genesee District Library, which is hosting a Human Library event at the Grand Blanc-McFarlen Library branch from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on September 10.
The Library has assembled a broad array of people with unique life stories, who have volunteered to be “books.”
The volunteers come from many different backgrounds, according to organizers, but their stories tend to center on one theme: Resilience.
“The Human Library is like a real library,” says Kelly Flynn, Community Relations Manager for Genesee District Library.
That’s true in many respects, except the books are people and reading them simply requires a conversation with a group of participants drawn from minorities or marginalized groups in society that have been exposed to stigma, misunderstanding and, all too often, discrimination.
Many of the program’s volunteers have faced prejudice and discrimination based on their lifestyle, sexuality, religion, occupation or in some other aspect of their lives, according to Flynn.
The Human Library concept makes things personal, according to Flynn.
“Instead of reading about a person’s challenges in a book, you can look into their eyes and hear their story straight from the heart,” says Flynn.
“Whether you talk to a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, a woman with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome who used a surrogate to give birth, or someone on the organ donor list waiting for a kidney, you’ll walk away with a deeper appreciation of the invisible and extraordinary challenges of people around us,” says Flynn.
In the act of telling their stories, the volunteer ‘books,’ have the opportunity to build understanding and appreciation of the extraordinary challenges they face within a positive framework that chips away at common stereotypes and prejudices.
“The Human Library provides a safe space to learn about other lives and discover the unique human beings behind the generalized book titles,” says Jerilyn Klich, Human Resources Manager for Genesee District Library. “It is a place where people who would normally never talk together can meet.”
It’s also a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered, openly and without judgement.
This one promises to be a page-turner.
Editor’s Note: The Human Library was a concept first created by Ronni Abergel, Dany Abergel, Christoffer Erichsen and Asma Mouna of the Danish youth organization Stop the Violence in 2000 for an event at Roskilde Festival. Taking the idea further, Ronni Abergel founded the Human Library Organization which is now operational on five continents, in approximately 80 countries worldwide. For more information visit: https://humanlibrary.org