Posted on February 14, 2011 by Tia Lalani

FINAL TWO EVENINGS Christopher Thrall explores the readers and the read in augustana human library: Centenary Edition.

By Christopher Thrall –

“I think it’s important to learn about other people’s lives and experience. In our communities, it’s the sharing of experiences that creates compassion, and a trust within communities.”
Lindsay Sims, Reader of Surviving the City and the Village by a gay man

The augustana human library: Centenary Edition is the U of A Augustana Campus Library’s contribution to our Centenary and the fifth human library to be held on campus. The Library is offering over 100 “reads” of Human Books: more than one read for each of Augustana’s 100 years. Further information and a schedule are available here. Don’t miss the final two evenings, February 14 and 15!

Reads include wrestling with substance abuse, domestic violence, depression and the adult perspective of being sexually abused as a child. Consider an environmental debate over conventional vs. organic land practices or discuss economic stress and its effects on marriage and family on the farm.

“It’s a transcendent experience for both the reader and the read,” explains Jan Buterman, Human Book titled Willy-Nilly: The Ongoing Experiences of an Uppity Transsexual. “So much richness of human culture is shared. The human library is an engaged, two-way model where every read is different.” Jan describes that, even when he has a script prepared, he tells his story differently every time and the questions he answers take him to new and unexpected places.

Jan graduated from Grade 12 at Augustana in 1987, and then again in 1992 with a BA in History. The experience becomes even more unexpected when he meets with people he knew. “I’ve had readers who were teachers of mine, or pastors of mine,” he laughs.

Another Human Book available this semester is Constable Sarah Cartier, the youngest and one of only two female officers on the Camrose police force. She has served for two years, wearing every hat required on any given shift, from major crimes to narcotics and domestic disturbances.

She had no idea what to expect but planned to just tell her story. If anyone has any questions, she hopes to be able answer to answer them.

“Most of our Books are from the Camrose community,” says Nancy Goebel, head librarian of the U of A Augustana Campus Library. “Recruitment is mostly done through word of mouth or by recommendation. We are often asked how we can have so many wonderfully interesting people in our small community: there is a real richness of life experiences.”

The augustana human library has a librarian-led research project associated with it. Each Human Book completes a pre-event and post-event questionnaire and each Reader completes a pre-read and post-read questionnaire so as to assess the value of the program as perceived by all participants.

Results have been very encouraging: 100% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that not only was the experience positive, but both Readers and Books benefitted from the experience. Fewer than half took out Books on subjects with which they were familiar and 17% admitted to experiencing prejudice toward the topic they were exploring. The results were processed through WASSAIL, the U of A Augustana-created information literacy assessment software.

“We are trying to get a sense of their perception of the topics from people when they come to do a read,” explains Nancy. “How do they perceive their understanding of the topic? Do they experience prejudice or do they buy in to a stereotype? We ask them afterwards if their perspective has changed.”

Nancy continues, “It is my intention to continue to offer the augustana human library as an extension of the curriculum at Augustana. Students are challenged to consider ‘what is information’ beyond the common experience of book and periodical and the ubiquitous internet. They are encouraged to ‘read’ a Human Book and cite them in their undergraduate research, where relevant.”

From adoption and male feminism to the raising of an autistic child, Human Books not only put a human face to prejudice and stereotypes, but they might challenge people to think differently, or even to support and advocate more accepting and supportive environments for all.

“I would love to see this become the kind of event that celebrates its own centenary,” says Jan. “It’s got a lot of primal power of narrative: the discussion is about being, and not as much about doing.”

“…[the experience] connects you to a human soul and human eyes, enabling you to learn through a lived experience of someone else.”
Chelsea Halvorson, Reader of Dancing Chick-to-Chick by a married lesbian

“I felt that talking about racism made me think more about all other forms of prejudices that may be encountered by other people.”
James Kariuki, Human Book who experienced racism in More Than A Color

See schedule here!

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