A veteran, a vegan, an elderly lady, a man with cerebral palsy, a transgender female, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a recovering addict, and several other “books” gathered in the Oyster River High School library waiting to be “read” by community members hoping to overcome their biases.
Saturday, March 23rd, several community members hosted a Human Library in the ORHS library which was supported by volunteers. Human Library is an international organization working to help people “unjudge” others by encouraging one-on-one conversations with individuals of different backgrounds or lifestyles to break down prejudices.
The event featured individuals of a variety of backgrounds as “books”, and event attendees, “readers” who were able to “check out” the books for 30 minute one-on-one conversations. As “readers” entered the event, they were greeted by a registration table where they could sign up to meet with “books”, if they hadn’t already registered online. “Readers” were then led to the library where each “book” had been stationed at a table, and “readers” found the “book” they’d signed up to meet with. The pair then used the “book’s” story as the diving board for a long, intimate conversation until they were notified that time was up, at which point a new session began.
According to the Human Library website, the layout the event was designed to challenge participants to look beyond their stereotypes or prejudices to see the person. The Human Library website describes their event as “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered.”
Buddy Hackett, one of the “books” at the event, is a Marine combat infantry veteran, a father, and a social work graduate student. He explained that by participating in the event, he hoped to change the preconceptions people hold for veterans. Hackett said that you can take any person, and no matter their life or profession, “someone’s gonna have a preconceived notion of who that person is.”
Hackett hoped that by speaking about his experiences during and after the war, he would find someone who needed to hear his story to understand the consequences he faced after fighting to defend his country. He said of his time deployed, “the stuff that I did, people don’t need to do that. No one needs to do that. There are hard things to unsee. But, I think that if that was my cross to bear, that I did that so someone else can have an easier, better life, then I did okay. And that’s why I can’t say I regret anything.”
Lyssa Bayne-Kim, a social worker and one of the event organizers, explained her motivation for wanting people like Hackett to tell their stories to the general community. She said, “one of the biggest issues right now is people not sitting down and talking and getting to know each other and understanding people’s experiences.” Bayne-Kim liked the method the Human Library uses to bridge this gap and said that it was part of what inspired her to host one in Durham. She said, “to encourage [conversation] on a one-to-one basis is a lot more intimate and meaningful, I think, than having just a panel of people who are talking to an audience.”
Bayne-Kim heard about the organization through social media and was immediately inspired to hold one in Durham. She wrote to Copenhagen, Denmark, where the organization is based, and they helped her organize the event in Durham. Bayne-Kim and other event coordinators were then faced with the challenge of finding the “books.” She said, “we reached out to people we know in the community who have shown interest in sharing their experience.” This included reaching out to the University of New Hampshire asking if they had any students or faculty interested in participating as books. Additionally, they used Facebook to find people interested in telling their stories.
While Bayne-Kim and other event coordinators said that they tried to publicize the event to students and teachers in the district, no teachers and a limited number of students attended. However, ORHS donated the use of the library to the event.
Hannah Grass (‘20) attended the event as a member of the Diverse Students Union (DSU), a club at ORHS dedicated to representing the school’s diverse population. “I’m trying to open my mind to other people, even though I might not agree with them a lot, I’m trying to educate myself more, and I’m trying to put myself out there more,” she explained. The DSU is hoping to host a similar event during the school day at some point in the future.
Grass explained that she felt the value of the one-on-one conversation while talking to Hackett. She said the power came from, “the eye contact, and you feel the emotion coming off the person. […] You see it a lot more than if you’re just one person in a thousand people.”
Another one of the “books,” Douglas McIntosh, has cerebral palsy and is an aspiring actor and athlete on the Special Olympics softball team. McIntosh acknowledged that he doesn’t speak for all people with a diff-ability (a word used to remove the negative connotations of the word ‘disability’). He advised that when you encounter someone with a diff-ability, “just let them be them, let them tell you what they need. It’s not your job to decide for them what they need.”
After speaking to “books” like Hackett and McIntosh, Jane Schwadron (‘20), an event attendee, said, “Human Library showed me a new perspective better than a paper book ever could.” She elaborated, saying, “actually being able to talk to someone about issues instead of hearing them from a book gives them humanity.”
For more information about the Human Library organization, or how to get involved, visit http://humanlibrary.org/.