“Human Books” Facilitate Dialogues with Stags at 6th Annual Human Library®

The Human Library® is an international movement that started in Denmark in the year 2000 and has since made its way through over 85 countries. Human Library at Fairfield University was created with the permission of the Human Library Organization and provides the opportunity for Fairfield University students, faculty and staff to share and understand the experiences of others.

The 6th annual Human Library took place on Nov. 8th 2021 in two formats: in-person at the Library for drop-ins and online for individuals who signed up in advance for 30 minute time slots. It was wonderful to offer the in-person engagement again and we also felt it was important to continue with virtual, like the previous year, to make the event as accessible as possible.

167 “Readers” choose a “Human Book” to speak with to hear their story and life experiences around topics that addressed stereotypes, prejudices, or stigmas. They were also encouraged to ask questions and could share their own experiences as well. Of course students came out for various reasons like FYE Thrive credit or at a faculty member’s encouragement, but there was also motivation to participate in this event for other reasons. Here are a few:

  • “I wanted to try something I wasn’t comfortable with or something I don’t usually do.”
  • “The name of this event intrigued me, I signed up solely because of this immediate curiosity.”
  • “To learn and listen to stories to broaden my perspective of human conditions and lived experiences.”
  • “To better understand people who may be in a similar situation as me and how they get through it.”
  • “I am a nursing major and wanted to take out a book that would better help me understand a certain disease process, not only by learning what the disease is, but by learning how it makes someone feel. It was important for me to ask my book what they wish a doctor/nurse/healthcare worker had done differently, so that I can use that knowledge to treat my patients better in the future.”
  • “I was motivated to attend this event because I wanted to learn more about what is offered in the Fairfield University community and what groups are a part of the community. ”

The virtual event: A librarian moderated a Zoom room, giving an event overview and putting Books and Readers into breakout rooms. Readers had signed up in advance with a specific book to speak to and received the Zoom link and some general guidelines. Ex: no video, find a private space or use headphones to minimize disruptions, etc. Afterwards the link to the anonymous reflection was provided. See the infographic below. Some of the book titles included ADHD, Disabled, Hearing Loss, Gang Rape Survivor.

The in-person event: During both the morning and afternoon sessions the main level of the Library was bustling with activity, as it has been every time we offered this event in the building. For those that had attended in the past the event looked a little different. Due to COVID-19 the event organizers decided to space out the event. Instead of students needing to wait on a long line they were given a numbered ticket when they entered the lobby and were able to wait anywhere they wanted on the main level, just so long as they were able to hear the Dean of the Library, Christina McGowan, calling their number to come up to the big whiteboard/check out board to see the list of available Books to talk to. Conversations between Books and Readers took place in group study rooms or The Writing Center. The room where readers took their anonymous reflection about the impact of their conversation was moved into a larger space too. See the infographic below. There were many volunteers who helped run the event (committee, library staff, and members of the Student Library Advisory Board), all wearing the same black and white t-shirts that the Books wore with the event taglines "Unjudge Someone" and "A worldwide movement for social change." Some of the Book titles included: Feminist, Immigrant, Living with Cancer, Non-binary, Survivor of Civil War, Writing through Grief.

The 6th annual Human Library was hosted by the DiMenna-Nyselius Library with co-sponsors including the: Center for Social Impact; Office of Student Engagement; Office of Student Diversity & Multicultural Affairs. The following departments had representation on the planning committee: Athletics, Campus Ministry, Center for Social Impact, Counseling & Psychological Services, English, Marketing & Communications, Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Office of the Provost, Student Engagement, Student Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, Online Learning, Residence Life, and Visual & Performing Arts.

The Human Books and Readers each took an anonymous reflection. You can see some of the data from the multiple choice responses on the infographic on this blog post. In addition there were written responses sharing their takeaways. Here are just a sampling to demonstrate the impact this event has:

Selections from The Reader's Takeaways:
  • “I feel stronger and more willing to express myself after listening to this story.”
  • “I realized that my own social identity has a larger than I imagined impact on others.“
  • “The human library is one of the most impactful events here at Fairfield University. This event has allowed me to learn more about an identity that I was not aware of. I completely respect the book for sharing his story and I am grateful and lucky to have listen to him. I learned today that there is so much more to learn about the world and the people in it.”
  • “We are so much more alike than different. Our differences should be celebrated not feared, ridiculed or victimized.”
  • “I just really did not think that Fairfield was as diverse as I now know it is and after hearing that story my entire thought process and how I think about my life and going through my life I am so grateful.“

Selections from the Book’s takeaways:

  • “This was a wonderful experience. I learned about myself and others in ways that I have not in other contexts.”
  • “It helped me to think about the different layers of my identity, one's that i often don't show or keep hidden away.“
  • “It made me understand stigmas and also taking into consideration what other people had to say, made me further interpret my own identity.”
  • “It was rewarding [to] see how I can impact someone else life through my story”
  • “Unbelievable experience battling my own stereotypes”
Infographic with data from the Human Library