What: The Human Library at the University of North Texas, sponsored by the
When: 3-6 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18 (Tuesday-Wednesday)
Where: Forum on the first floor of UNT’s Willis Library, which is located one
block east of Highland Street and Avenue C (1506 W. Highland St.)
Contact: Diane Wahl, user experience librarian for the Willis Library, at 940-
891-6897 or Diane.Wahl@unt.edu
DENTON (UNT), Texas — Although she began losing her sight in the eighth grade to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition, University of North Texas graduate student Jessica Naert says she still looks sighted. She says many of those who meet her don’t understand how she could be blind, and “then wonder how I function.”
That’s why Naert, who is earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, became a “human book” at UNT’s first Human Library sponsored by UNT’s Willis Library last February, sharing her experiences with anyone who asked her.
“I’m usually an open book in general about my disability. I’m honored to educate people about it and change misconceptions,” she said.
On Sept. 17-18 (Tuesday-Wednesday), the Willis Library and UNT’s Multicultural Center will have another Human Library, in which students, faculty, staff members and others will borrow individuals with different ethnic origins, religions, sexual orientations, lifestyles and backgrounds from themselves, and have them answer their questions. Participants will receive poker chips to check out the books between 3 and 6 p.m. both days for specified amounts of time.
The event will take place in the Forum on the first floor of the library, which is located at 1506 W. Highland St. It is being co-sponsored by three UNT student organizations.
More than 20 UNT students and staff members have volunteered to be “books.” They include an atheist, a biracial Muslim woman who wears a Hijab, a bisexual, a Cajun, an evangelical Christian, a former unauthorized immigrant, a spouse in a biracial and bicultural marriage, a vegan and a wheelchair user, among others.
The human books will challenge possible bias and stereotyping of those who borrow them, through respectful conversation. The books cannot promote any specific ideologies or lifestyle, said Diane Wahl, user experience librarian for the UNT Libraries.
The first Human Library was held in 2000 as part of the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was sponsored by Stop the Violence, a non-governmental youth movement with 30,000 members. Since that time, Human Libraries have been operated in 60 nations. The first Human Library in the U.S. was held in 2007, according to HumanLibrary.org.
Mallory Schier, a junior studio arts major and president of World Echoes, a multicultural student organization at UNT, said she decided to organize UNT’s first Human Library after attending an online Human Library event. She noted that those who attend “don’t have to agree with the views being presented, and can ask questions that could be considered rude in a normal setting.”
Donna Obenda, curriculum coordinator for communication in UNT’s Intensive English Language Institute, was a human book for interracial and intercultural marriage. Her husband is from the Republic of the Congo in Africa.
“I was asked questions about my daughter being biracial and if I had faced prejudice,” she said. “I really liked hearing the students’ opinions on race, and some of our international students asked about intercultural relationships because they had American boyfriends and girlfriends.”
Some of the students who attended last spring’s Human Library received extra credit for their Diversity Issues in Criminal Justice class, which the instructor, Adam Trahan, describes as “a broad study of race, class and gender and the way the law treats and criminalizes people differently.”
“My goal is to have students recognize how sincerely different people’s lives are, particularly those who live on the margins of society,” said Trahan, an assistant professor who plans to offer extra credit for September’s Human Library. “That’s what makes the Human Library so beneficial to us. My students gain a greater sense of empathy from interacting with those they probably haven’t interacted with during their lives.”