WC introduces Human Library through info session and generative workshops

By Heather Fabritze

Student Life Editor

Through a co-sponsored effort by Clifton M. Miller Library, the Office of Intercultural Affairs, and the Bias Education Response Team (BERT), Washington College faculty and administration are working to establish a Human Library on-campus.

The greater Human Library was formed in 2000. According to the organization’s website, the initiative strives to build a space for conversations that “challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.”

Volunteers run the program as “human books.” At Human Library events, books spend 15 to 20 minutes each round telling attendees about their life experience and conversing with them. Afterward, they repeat the process with the next attendee.

According to the WC Human Library informational pamphlet, each book “represents” a societal “group” that often faces stereotypes or prejudice. The purpose of the library experience is to break down biases that participants may have through conversations.

Members of the WC community can check out human books and ask questions about their past or situations. Or, alternatively, students can reach out to become books themselves if they feel they have an experience worth hearing.

One of the project leaders, Research and Instruction Librarian in Science and Mathematics Alexandria Baker, said in her speech at a Human Library information session that the initiative provides an opportunity to know peers on a deeper level.

“It’s quite often that we are in rooms where we make a quick inventory of who else is in the room with us,” Baker said. “Unbeknownst to us, that person has a really genuinely interesting story. And it’s a chance for us to really take the time to go beyond the surface and investigate, what about that person? What can I learn from them?”

Community members working on the project held the information session on Wednesday, Nov. 16 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Hynson Lounge. The event featured the opportunity for Q&A before breaking into generative workshops.

To lead the Q&A, initiative leaders brought in a past human book from the Howard County Library System Human Library. 

Oscar DeNessuno, whose book title is “Man in Black: Trans and Saudi,” often focuses on his experience fleeing Saudi Arabia in order to transition.

“[The Human Library] just allowed for me to give a voice to that and put my ideas out there, and my thoughts out there, and my experiences,” DeNessuno said. “And it was extremely rewarding, because I met a whole bunch of different people that had never met a LGBTQ+ Muslim or a trans person.”

Attendees of the information session worked on the initiative themselves through the three generative workshops.

The workshops included “If I Were a Human Book…,” which involved brainstorming book titles; “Generative Questions,” which reviewed common questions directed toward books in conversation; and “Promoting the Human Library,” which acted as a marketing session.

 DeNessuno said that even outside of the workshops every person is capable of sharing their experience with their intersecting identities through the Human Library.

“I believe that I was able to really dive a little bit deeper into what was going on with myself and maybe also touch another person at the same time, in a similar way, and it was wonderful,” DeNessuno said.

Baker also said that she encourages students to experience the Human Library themselves.

“It allows you to think about how few opportunities people have to share their story in their own words,” Baker said. “A lot of times your narratives are shared for you and you’re not in control of them. And it is an invitation for people to learn about aspects of your identity.”

The full Human Library experience will be available in the spring 2023 semester.

Photo by Mia Snyder

Photo Caption: The motto of the Washington College Human Library is to “unjudge someone.”

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