Simplicity, positivity, and sensitivity are all aspects that can create an incredibly powerful movement that has the potential to change a person’s life, and in the year 2000, such a movement was born.
The Human Library.
“The Human library idea is to bring members of the community together to share their stories and to hopefully build acceptance among the community and discuss diverse topics,” said Castleton education professor, Monica McEnerny.
This innovative method, designed to promote dialogue, tolerance and an overall better understanding of the people around you, can be found all over the world. However, until recently, it has never been seen in the state of Vermont.
“The idea started this summer when Emily (Professor Emily Gleason) and I attended the human democracy project, which was a conference in Colorado, and that’s where we heard about it,” said McEnerny
“Emily did some investigating and realized there has never been one in Vermont, so we wanted Castleton to be the first school in the state to hold a human library.”
The Human Library enabled 50 Castleton participants to listen to each other’s stories and break stereotypes by discussing tough and diverse topics in a positive way.
“We know that everyone has a story, actually everyone has multiple stories, and by listening to one another’s stories, we can learn quite a bit about them and ourselves,” Gleason said. “The vulnerability that is associated with story telling, the honesty, the human elements, helps us to be better teachers, better people, and helps us to understand diversity.”
The Human Library held at Castleton State College contained 24 “books” that agreed to share their own personal stories with their peers. Amanda Flodstrom, a student at Castleton, was one of those books.
“Each book, which was a person, would say their title and their story that they were going to tell. All of the book titles were laid out on the table and you could open it up and read the description of that book, then you took out a little tag and had to check out the book you wanted to learn more about,” said Flodstrum.
“It was a very empowering experience. It opens up your mind to things that you don’t really think about on a daily basis and allows you to interact with people you wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths with.”
Although The Human Library is a method designed to spread understanding and acceptance to those listening, McEnerny and Gleason made it clear that it was very important that the people who were telling their stories felt comfortable.
“We wanted to make sure that our books felt safe and really wanted to tell their stories. So before we all listened to what they had to say, we talked about responding in a way that was active and constructive. We talked about different ways of listening to allow our books to get deeply into their subject, while feeling safe,” said McEnerny.
By the reactions of everyone involved, it seems they did just that.
“It was such a great experience to share stories and felt so liberating. I would like to do it again,” Flodstrom said.
With the education department full of aspiring teachers, this experience had a great impact on the future teachers of our generation and influenced them to have an open mind.
“You know, this whole thing was very simple and basic, but you truly get so much out of it,” said education major Amanda Burnham.
Organizers say they hope to continue the Human Library in future semesters.
“We want to do it across departments and across our community. We have lots of ideas for next time, including time for books to talk to other books and we want to do it every semester. This is special and we really want to mobilize that this is our thing, the education department,” said McEnerny.
Participants seemed equally excited that it will continue, organizers said.
“We talked to our books after, they said they felt really empowered and happy to tell their stories, and you know, that’s what we were hoping,” Gleason said.