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First Human Library in Wisconsin Opens on Campus

Human LibraryThe Mulva Library and the Cassandra Voss Center are sponsoring the first “Human Library” collection to be offered in Wisconsin.

At the March 4 event, students will be able to choose and “check out” a human “book”: a volunteer with a unique perspective and an otherwise untold story. During a reserved timeslot they’ll be able to conduct an interview for the purposes of their studies. Instruction will be provided on how to properly cite the “books” for academic reference.

“Part of the fun and joy is mirroring the library system. There is so much available to choose, which is a huge part of the energy of the event,” explains Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer ’11 (Cassandra Voss Center).  

An archive of voices
With its focus on tolerance, challenging prejudices, and fostering commitment to social justice and equality, the Human Library creates spaces for deep-seated discussions of identity.

Participants engage with living sources in a context more than likely new to all. The intimate and human setting stamps a face on often-marginalized groups or situations, stripping away preconceived prejudices that get carried into the everyday.

“It’s an undeniable opportunity for individuals to unpack their own possible biases as well as push boundaries through dialogue and reflection,” says Czarnik-Neimeyer. “The stories being told are ones that typically lie on the fringe of communities, things happening outside the ‘SNC bubble.’”

Don’t forget your library card
The inaugural event will be split into two sessions. Beginning at 6 p.m., students in registered courses will have a reserved slot to “research” books relevant to their class. Then at 7 p.m., doors open to all members of the community – on and off campus – so that they, too, can explore topics of interest.

Eight human books will be available, each with her or his own distinct title and story. Particular attention will be paid to overlooked populations in the immediate areas of Green Bay and Brown County. Narratives from the Oneida community and the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay represent only a few of the volumes offered for exploration.  

Kristin Vogel (Mulva Library) says, “Information comes in lots of different packages. The Human Library provides new ways to represent that information in an exciting way: in people, in conversation, in ideas. It brings to life what a library really is.

“Libraries are not stagnant spaces, and the Human Library really pulses with life and a personal touch.”

She and Czarnik-Neimeyer agree that the Mulva and the CVC share a vested interest in story, from its traditional, bound form to the creative and unconventional. Their own objectives focus on the merging of theory and experience as means to creating a richer community. In other words, the evening promises to reinvent the very idea of a library.

A catalog of hospitality
The Human Library is offered in the context of the college theme for this year: radical hospitality. “It is important for students to have an awareness of the community, to see linkage and explore ways of being beneficial,” says Czarnik-Neimeyer.        

The Human Library worldwide has its own compelling narrative. Founded in 2000 by a group of youth activists in Copenhagen, Denmark, the idea has leapt across international boundaries with its unique and universal applications. Its mission emphasizes the connection of people through personal testimonial, where community members – a.k.a. human “books” – volunteer to share their stories of prejudice, discrimination or hardship with an audience, or “readers.”

March 3, 2015