Tarleton students ‘check out’ life stories at human library event

By: Nicholas Ratcliff

Multimedia Journalist

Tarleton State University recently hosted a Human Library event on campus in Stephenville, Texas on Oct. 11.  This event was hosted by the Tarleton Libraries and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and International programs (ODII). Manager of Global Outreach & Learning Dr. Kym Schow and Dean of University Libraries Dr. Katherine Quinnell worked as event coordinators for the night.

This photo shows part of the setup, including the books you could check out.
Photo Courtesy of the Tarleton Library Facebook page.

During the event, students were encouraged to “check out” a human book for 20-30 minutes, where they could discuss a variety of aspects about diverse cultures, viewpoints and life experiences. The main goal of the program is to challenge stigmatization and prejudice through conversation.

The first Human Library event was created back in 2000 by Ronni Abergel, Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen in Copenhagen, Denmark. This concept made its way to Tarleton thanks to the efforts of Schow and Quinnell.

According to Schow, the idea began after they witnessed several successful human library events that were hosted by public and academic libraries. They determined that the students at Tarleton could benefit from this experience and decided to get to work on putting the event together.

Over the summer, Schow reached out to Emily Vankirk, a student development specialist with ODII, to see if the department would be interested in hosting a Human Library event at Tarleton. Vankirk immediately agreed and together the two of them started working on a proposal and eventually got approval to license the program.

Some of the topics that were discussed at this year’s event were “Proud to Be: A Story of Self-Acceptance,” “Fits and Misfits: An emotional Acculturation,” “Behind the Broken Window” and many more.

Schow discussed how these topics were selected stating, “The topics we included in our human book collection are tailored to the system set by the Human Library Organization.  They provided us with the ‘Pillars of Prejudice’ to use in our recruitment which include religion, disabilities, ideology, ethnicity, gender/sexuality, health, occupation, lifestyle, victim, family relation and social status.”

Here is the list of “books” students had the opportunity to check out from the event.
Photo By: Nicholas Ratcliff

Schow went on to say, “There are different identities within these pillars though.  For example, a human book who experienced a hate crime would have a different story from someone who experienced domestic violence, but both would fall under the victim pillar.  So, while we only had seven pillars represented in total this year, each of the 18 human books in our collection had a unique story to share.”

The people who became “Human Books” for the evening were selected by Schow, Vankirk and Alexis Polizzi, an academic coordinator at Tarleton.

Schow explained this process as the most challenging aspect of the entire project.

“We needed to find students, faculty and staff who would be comfortable discussing personal experiences with stigmatization and prejudice,” Schow said. “We put a call out via social media, email distribution lists and word of mouth.”

Schow went on to mention that, “The safety of our human books is paramount. If they are still processing painful experiences, being a human book could potentially cause more harm than good.  We were fortunate this year that we did not receive applications with similar pillars/identities.”

The Human Library event gave the students of Tarleton an opportunity to address their biases while promoting a friendly, safe environment for students to learn and grow as individuals.

The importance of events like this is best summarized by Quinnell, who stated, “President [James] Hurley stresses ‘Y’all means all’ and I believe the library is an essential advocate for non-judgment and inclusion.  Our code of ethics (www.ala.org/tools/ethics) maintains that we do our best to remain unbiased, supportive and equitable in our service and access to all patrons. Specifically, principal nine states, ‘We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services and allocation of resources and spaces.’  I believe that shouldn’t just happen in our building, but we should advocate across campus.”

Tarleton’s Fort Worth Campus will be hosting the Human Library event on Oct. 14.

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