May 1, 2017
“Human Library” replaces books
by Josephine Wang
At the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library in Little Rock, Arkansas a “Human Library” event was held where children “instead of checking out library books… ‘checked out’ people.” (Which… is probably an extended metaphor gone too far.)
According to a report by Kimberly Rusley of KATV, the region’s ABC affiliate, the event was intended to provide an opportunity for people with potentially misunderstood lives or beliefs to field questions from curious attendees. Included among the ranks of these “living books” were “a transgender man, a recovering alcoholic, a police officer… [and] an American Muslim woman.”
Yvonne Quek, organizer of the event, explains, “You put a human face behind it, and you hear their stories… It’s not just on paper, and you actually get to feel and experience their emotions, and how they want their story to be told.” Sounds a lot like how books work, actually.
Is this an ominous harbinger of the wane of libraries filled with actual print on paper?
As a priggish fundamentalist for books, particularly of the tangible variety, I’m inclined to be skeptical of any project that suggests that the technology of ink-on-paper is wanting. That said, oral history certainly has a place in the greater project of “[creating] dialogue between people of diverse backgrounds.”
In an age where America’s highest political office is held by a man with white supremacist sympathies, and O’Reilly–Spicer types continue to stand behind lecterns of calcified aggression toward anyone outside their cloistered, beige lunch club, there continues a desperate need for polyphonic ideas and narratives.
It is noteworthy that the eleven people brought to present their stories at the event have subjectivities that remain largely underrepresented by the publishing industry. A reminder that, ever yet, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
I just hope actual books, and the libraries that hold them, will remain part of the equation.
Josephine Wang recently completed an internship at Melville House.