Real people were on loan to readers at Kutztown University’s Human Library on March 28.

Organized by Rohrbach Library staff and KU Office of Inclusion and Outreach, the Human Library offered an opportunity for positive conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices. The event held at Rohrbach Library encouraged interpersonal communication and created a sense of empathy and understanding, said Sylvia Pham, outreach librarian.

“I’d like people to be more tolerant and appreciative to human beings who may be different from you. One of the tag lines is to ‘unjudge someone.’ We want people to be more open minded and appreciative of your fellow human being,” said Pham. “We may not normally have that chance to have a conversation with someone about a specific issue or topic, so this is that one chance.”

The Human Library, or "Menneskebiblioteket" in Danish, was developed in Copenhagen in 2000 as a project for Roskilde Festival. Open eight hours a day for four days, more than 50 titles provided readers many choices to challenge stereotypes. More than 1,000 readers participated.

Pham said the Human Library has slowly become more popular throughout Europe and North America.

This was the second year KU hosted a Human Library, a place where difficult questions were expected, appreciated and answered. Readers could check out a human book to "read" for up to 20 minutes in a one-on-one setting or small group setting. Rules included returning the book in the same condition as it was when checked out.

“In other words, we don’t want you to abuse the book or be offensive to the book. People ask hard questions and good questions but in a respectful manner,” said Jerry Schearer, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Outreach at Kutztown University.

Schearer said that while the initial response from readers was one of confusion, many were intrigued.

“Once they check a book out, I think most everyone comes back with a positive response,” he said. “I think everyone wins today by learning more about other people and building who our community is here.”

The Human Library featured a variety of books which included students, staff, and community members as well as sequel books from the first Human Library held last year. Titles included “Superwoman Complex,” “Homecoming,” “Faith-based Scientist,” “Addict,” and “The Pieces Don’t Completely Fit,” to name a few.

KU sophomores Isabella Stoughton, 19, and Shantae Saunders, 20, checked out several books, all of which they found relatable and helpful to their own lives.

“It lets me see different perspectives of people and what they’re going through and how they’ve coped with it,” said Stoughton. “It’s great to see what other people have to say.”

“A lot of people try to stay so composed walking around like they are keeping their life together. Coming here you see everyone’s been through something and they’re coping,” said Saunders. “Learning how different people feel, different experiences and perspectives, I feel like it helps me to connect with people more.”

Among the books available was “Anxious Band Geek” by KU music education major and KU Marching Unit clarinet player Peyton Williams, 21. She likes that the Human Library is an interactive experience, rather than the one-sided experience of reading a physical book, and that the event gives the reader a chance to ask questions and receive answers.

“I think it will give people more of an understanding of different backgrounds,” said Williams.

Another book “Healing Hurt” by Connie Lawrence, KU secretary in the Grants Office, was a sequel. Her first book in last year’s Human Library was about being an abuse survivor. Her second book is about her youngest son who took pain medications for a broken leg, became addicted to opioids and died as the result of a heart attack from an opioid overdose. Lawrence, who had planned her own suicide, credits a medium with saving her life. “I need to be here for others and I don’t belong where he is.” She hopes her readers learn that there is hope and to be open to everything.

“There’s so many people that could be going through the same thing,” said Lawrence. “If someone had made me feel like I wasn’t alone, that I’ve been through this and you’ll get through this (because) I did, I think my road would have been shorter. I would have seen the light about people sooner than I did.”

The book “I Sense Differently” by Amber Steet, a KU student (special education studies with visual impairment), talked about her neurological condition that causes her visual impairment. She also talked about her psychic abilities.

“There’s a lot of neat people with a lot of good questions,” said Steet. “It’s run the gambit today.”

The book “Veganism, the How and the Why” by KU communications major Ella Sandnes, 20, encouraged readers to think for themselves and question what they have been taught.

Talking about the event’s goal for people to unjudge someone, Sandnes said, “Don’t just go by face value, because you’re never going to hear the whole story and you’re going to miss out on so much valuable information that you could have just by having a conversation with someone.”

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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