Community members share life experiences in Human Library

Students, faculty, staff and community members "read" each other at the Human Library. Arjun Kakkar/Photo editor
Students, faculty, staff and community members “read” each other at the Human Library. Arjun Kakkar/Photo editor

On Friday and Saturday the College hosted a Human Library for all students, faculty, staff and surrounding community members.

The event took place for three hours each afternoon in Paresky. The Human Library consisted of 39 members of the community who served as “books” that could be “checked out” for 20-minute conversations with the “readers.”

Books had a specific occupation or area of knowledge, ranging from a World War II veteran to a national snowmobile champion. The books came with three pre-scripted questions about their topic, but their exchanges with readers went beyond a one-sided interview, to a discussion about life experiences.

Over 100 readers visited the library each day; on Friday, the entire sixth grade of Williamstown Elementary School and a contingent of 10th graders from Mt. Greylock Regional High School attended.

The idea of the Human Library was created in 2001 in Denmark as part of a youth organization called “Stop The Violence” and has spread throughout 27 countries around the world.

The College’s yearly Human Library is a part of the Gaudino Initiative. The last Gaudino scholar, Magnus Bernhardsson, professor of history, started the program four years ago and passed it onto Lois Banta, associate professor of biology and current Gaudino Scholar, as of this year. Banta associated much of this year’s success to Carrie Green, director of commencement and academic events, her assistant Veronica Bosley and the College’s librarians, who have been running the event since its first year and were able to deal with any potential problems before they arose.

Scott Shelton ’17 volunteered as a book titled “Where is the intersection of religion and culture?” He found that the experience allowed him to meet people from very different backgrounds and engage in conversations with them.

“It wasn’t just the books that had experiences to share,” Shelton said.

As Gaudino Scholar, Banta has chosen a theme for her three years, which she summarizes as “At What Cost?” She intends to explore the “uncomfortable truths” about striving for “effortless perfection” at the College and in students’ daily lives. One facet of her initiative is focused on witnessing the stories of others; she appreciates how well that theme intersects with the purpose of the Human Library.

“When we only know about a person or a class of people in the abstract,” Banta said, “it’s easy not to relate if you choose not to relate. When you meet someone from that group you identify in a new way … It’s such a gift to relate to a person.”