Evanston Public Library invites “human books” to share their stories

At the Evanston Public Library’s Human Library event, visitors listened to the stories of seven different “human books” to learn how to “unjudge” someone’s story.

EPL held its fifth Human Library on Sunday, April 24, where “readers” had the opportunity to hear from Evanston residents, called human “books,” who volunteered as storytellers to speak about experiencing prejudice. The “books” had titles including “Gay Granny,” “Biracial” and “Mother of a Victim of Chicago’s Gun Violence.” The event is part of the international Human Library movement which started in Copenhagen in 2000. After a two-year pause due to the pandemic, the event was brought back again this year, EPL librarian Julie Rand said.

“They say that if you read books, you become more empathetic, and I 100% believe that,” Rand said. “The Human Library is another way that creates empathy and connection.”

Other human book titles included “Genderfluid,” “African American Activist” and “Cerebral Palsy.”

Evanston resident Michael Warren used to be a human book and now works as an organizer for the event. Volunteering as a book allowed Warren to engage in meaningful dialogues about the prejudice he has experienced and embrace his own identity, he said.

“I didn’t really find it hard talking about myself to other people,” Warren said. “This is designed to be an intimate conversation and people who come are so open and curious. That’s what makes this experience so great.”

Library volunteer and retired Northwestern adviser Marti Bjornson has helped with the Human Library project for five years, providing people with the opportunity to meet and understand someone whose life is different from their own. The educational aspect of the experience has kept her coming back each year.

“There’s so many opportunities and so many different people, whether it is by something physical or racial,” Bjornson said. “People are so isolated that they don’t really understand how to meet someone who is different from themselves.”

Rand has helped organize this event for several years, but she still learns a lot from each human book. Most people are confident that they know enough about a topic, but when they converse with a person who has actually experienced something first hand, their whole perspective can change, Rand said.

“In my first experience at a Human Library, I spoke to someone with Asperger’s, and I felt positive that I knew enough about the topic,” Rand said. “Then I learned so much during that 20 minute conversation with a person who actually had Asperger’s, and my whole point of view changed.”

Tori Foreman’s book title was “Biracial.” She to join the Human Library event so she could discuss misconceptions decided some may have about what it means to grow up biracial in a rural environment. In her youth, it seemed that people wanted her to choose one identity over another instead of embracing her unique combination of races, Foreman said.

Like others who attended the Human Library, Bjornson was grateful for the chance to hear directly from the volunteers about their experiences.

“I feel as if it were non-judgmental, not threatening and it sets the environment for people to have this opportunity that they would not otherwise have done on their own,” Bjornson said. “It’s a privilege and an honor to listen to every book.”

*Thumbnail by Rafaela Jinich / North By Northwestern

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