While libraries contain physical books that are repositories of human knowledge, human beings themselves represent a living library of experience. Each individual’s story contributes a chapter to our collective understanding of the issues that unite and, increasingly, divide every member of our global community. NOVA brought human “books” to the community by hosting the Human Library Project (HLP), an international event held on college campuses across the world.
The HLP was started by Danish students in 2000 as a way of putting an end to violence and it has grown into an event hosted on five continents. HLP is a library of human beings who represent groups and stories in a community that focuses on difficult issues: stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Readers can “check out” a person on “loan” to have a conversation in a supportive and safe environment where stories can be freely told and challenging issues can be openly discussed. The Human Library Project does not exist to share an opinion on any one issue, but rather, as a platform for dialogue. Each event includes a variety of human books who want to contribute their life adventures and successes. The volunteer human books expect and encourage hard and uncomfortable questions and are eager to share their answers and personal experiences as a way of engaging with the community.
NOVA was the first college to host a Human Library Project in Virginia and this year marks the third time that the community college participated. “NOVA’s Alexandria Campus is home to an extremely diverse student population with over 150 countries and languages represented, making it a perfect venue for the HLP event,” said Patricia Cooper, Instructional Technologist, Technology Innovation in Learning and Teaching.
Aligning with NOVA’s Achieving the Dream initiative, the HLP event on campus aims to build communities among the faculty, staff, and students to foster collaboration and create shared goals that celebrate diversity and eliminate preconceived biases. “Last year, we had a total of 21 books that included a mixture of participants from across the College,” said Kirstin Riddick, Coordinator, Technology Innovation in Learning and Teaching. “We also had some notable human books from the community including members of the nonprofit Living Legends organization, a prominent congressman, and a former Justice Department official.”
Each human book shares their story with four library “patrons” at a table. The conversations last for 15 to 20 minutes and then the patrons rotate to the next book.
The 2019 Human Library Project at NOVA was a one-day event that featured 25 human books. They included two books from the Goodwin House, an assisted living community whose residents include four-star generals, opera singers and NASA scientists. Wilma shared the story of her American Girl Doll, ‘Addie.’ Joe spoke about his fight with depression and how he triumphed over suicide.
The Human Library’s purpose is to foster a sense of community, understanding, and empathy among our learning community. The official hashtag for the event is #UnJudgeMe. You can read more about the Human Library Project at NOVA online in the NOVA SWAY newsletter.