Human Library Project at Williams College Promotes Dialogue and Reduces Prejudice

Human Library Project at Williams College
Promoting Dialogue, Reducing Prejudice
February 28 & March 1, 2014

Founded in 2001 in Denmark to promote human rights and social cohesion, the human library project seeks to create greater understanding between people and provide a safe space where we can learn more about each other and work through stereotypes and discrimination present in our community in order to ultimately to forge new connections between people. Williams College invites all members of the community to experience the Human Library, Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, Mar. 1 from 1-4pm  at Paresky Center on the Williams College campus. This is a free, interactive event and reservations are not required.

The best kind of learning takes place experientially, when we get to interact with materials and navigate situations in a way that allows us to make discoveries. However, we can’t learn everything experientially – sometimes, we have to simply take someone’s word to be true when it’s not possible to have a lesson for ourselves. And what do we do when an experience isn’t accessible and nobody around us has any useful input? We head to the library, and find a book to provide us with the information that we desire. There’s just one problem with books, though – as information-filled as they are, they can’t answer your questions!

This Friday and Saturday, Williams College in Williamstown, MA, presents a unique (and very rare!) opportunity to not only learn from books, but to have them answer your questions, too! The 2014 Human Library is, as its name implies, made up not of actual books but of human books – human beings whose unique life experiences make up volumes and volumes of information, stored amongst a network of brain cells and synapses instead of a stack of bound pages. Open from 1-4pm on Friday, February 28th and Saturday, March 1st, the Human Library offers more than sixty different human books who can be checked out for periods of up to half an hour. Each human book will begin by answering a few (3-5) predetermined questions before allowing their borrower to ask their own questions…

The participants in the Human Library have been selected based upon their life experiences and/or the context in which their lives take place, and the purpose of the event is to support the community in building a greater understanding of one another, and of what it means to identify as something (“woman of color,” “graduate student,” or “gay man,” for example). A wide array of experiences, gender identities, and cultural backgrounds are represented within the library, and topics covered by books at this week’s event include growing up in the Middle East, interracial marriage, surviving cancer, home schooling, and competing in the Olympics… just to name a few of the many varied accessible topics! Unlike real books, these living books offer a wealth of information and experience, the learning potential of which would otherwise go untapped.

Families can utilize the Human Library as a learning experience for kids of all ages. Young children can learn about what it’s like to grow up in another part of the world, while older kids might learn from the same human book about what it’s like to come from a different cultural background but live in the United States, immersed in American culture.

Similarly, elementary aged students might learn to better understand the events that took place during World War II by hearing about a soldier’s firsthand experiences in the war, while an older student might use the same human book as a way to learn about how immensely the experience of war shapes the rest of a person’s life.

The Human Library at Williams College will be held in the college’s Paresky Student Center, located at 39 Chapin Hall Drive in Williamstown, MA.

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