Last weekend, Paresky was transformed into the Human Library, consisting of over 40 human “books” that students were able to “check out” for up to 30 minutes at a time. This is the second year that the College has hosted the Human Library, sponsored by the Gaudino Fund and the Human Library Committee, which consists of staff, students and faculty members.
“The purpose of the library is to promote dialogue and work against prejudice,” Associate Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History Magnus Bernhardsson said. Bernhardsson, a Gaudino Scholar, led a movement with Associate Professor of French Language Katarzyna Pieprzak to create a Human Library at the College. “Last year it proved to be a very meaningful event for all involved, so we felt compelled to offer it anew,” Bernhardsson said.
The concept of the Human Library originated in Denmark in 2000 with a non-governmental youth movement called “Stop The Violence” in order to combat anti-immigrant sentiment. From the success of the initial “library,” the event has spread to over 60 countries, and last year’s event at the College was the first Human Library in Massachusetts.
When readers entered the Human Library, they signed an agreement to not “hurt or damage the books” emotionally or physically. From there, readers were directed to a table of librarians who helped readers select which “books” they wanted to explore. This year there were over 40 books to choose from, with titles including Zen Buddhist, Recovering Anorexic, Queer Rabbi and Man Who Has Never Watched TV. Once a reader chose a book, a librarian guided him and her to the appropriate book and provided them with a list of questions that served as conversation starters. Then, the book had thirty minutes to discuss their story with the reader.
“We sought out books by advertising via Daily Messages,” Bernhardsson said. “We also brainstormed in our committee about what kind of books people would be interested in learning from.”
Tha Poeuk, a chef at Mission Dining Hall, decided to be a book this year, titling himself Refugee. “I love telling my story,” Poeuk said. His story began when he was fifteen years old living in Communist Cambodia, and he decided to escape the oppressive regime with two of his brothers. In his group of 29 refugees, only nine made it across the border to Thailand alive. “They were hunting us like wild animals,” Poeuk said.
By reading books such as Refugee, visitors to the Human Library were able to gain a deeper understanding of community members with backgrounds different to their own, from students who have dealt with divorce in their family, to community members who have dealt with the death of a loved one, to That Guy In the Library, as David Schuelt was titled.