In reading the June 2017 issue of American Libraries, I came across the article titled, “If these books could talk” by Liz Granger. In it, Granger talks about a recent trend called the Human Library. A Human Library is one that checks out humans that are “read” by the patron in a 20-minute conversation. There is also the option of checking out a human for a group, which may help those who are timid about asking questions. For example, if I attended an event, I might check out a “book” titled Drug addict or another called Illegal Immigrant. I would have a conversation with the human book. What might we talk about? I’m sure I would have my own questions, but hopefully, the organizer has coached the human book and run through practice questions as one organizer, Megan Gilpin of Penn State University recommends (p. 23).
Ronni Abergel, cohost of the first human library event in Copenhagen in 2000, trademarked human library in 2010 with the goal of helping people “confront prejudice and stereotypes” (p.20). (FYI, If a library or organization wants to host a human library event, they must apply for permission from The Human Library Organization, and if they are approved, they are given training materials that facilitate setting one up.)
So my thought is this: AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner (2007) mark the importance of supporting global citizenship. AASL 3.3.1 states, “Solicit and respect diverse perspectives while searching for information, collaborating with others, and participating as a member of the community,”and standard 3.3.2 states, “Respect the differing interests and experiences of others, and seek a variety of viewpoints.” As facilitators and coaches, we teacher librarians can host these kinds of events! Think of the impact in just one day! Speaking from my own experience, we teachers and school administrators have a heightened sense of awareness about the threat of prejudice in light of recent 2016 events. One school in my district had to handle anti-semitic threats this past year which resulted in examining practices through work with the Anti-Defamation League. Our efforts to level the playing field and combat prejudice can be augmented by programs like the Human Library.
What if the Human Library could be an event conducted online? ISTE Standards for Students (2016) state that students “use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.” I can imagine a classroom where students interview a human book in the same way that they interview entrepreneurs and industry experts with Google Hangouts for business classes or career days. Moreover, an online environment for the Human Library would encourage the global transaction–remote information made local. In this case, the transaction is not only information, it hopefully represents socio-emotional growth.
According to another organizer, Abby Kasowitz-Scheer from Syracuse University Libraries, people who attend Human Library events are “inspired by the strength of survivors and by people’s ability to go on after difficult life experiences.” (qtd. in Granger, p. 23). If a big part of our mission is to help students to empathize with others, the Human Library sounds like a great way to accomplish this, giving way more bang for the buck.
American Association of School Librarians. (2007) Standards for the 21st-century learner. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards
Granger, L. (2017, June). If these books could talk. American Libraries, 48(6), pages 20-21, 23. Retrieved online from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2017/06/01/if-these-books-could-talk-human-libraries/
ISTE Standards for Students. (2016). International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/docs/Standards-Resources/iste-standards_students-2016_one-sheet_final.pdf?sfvrsn=0.23432948779836327