January 30, 2012

Library in Utah lending “human books”


"Human Book" and Utah State University staffer Sachin Pavithran talks to a "reader" "about his blindness, alongside his guide dog, Barstow.

A novel idea at the library at Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library has them lending something in addition to novels.  According to a report from the Ogden, Utah Standard Examiner, the library has instituted a “human book” program. That’s right, you can check out an interesting human to tell you about their interesting selves as part of the “Human Library” program organized by reference librarian Anne Hedrich.

Among the “books” you can find — seated on “shelf seats” in the reading room —are Mormon Turned Pagan, Female Gamer, Top Ramen for the (Mature) College Student’s Soul, and Leaving ED (Eating Disorders) Behind. Tim Wright, whose “title” was Extreme Weather Chaser, was “checked out four times during his two-hour session Tuesday.”

Librarian Hedrich tells the paper that “the goals of the Human Library event are to open dialogues between people who may think they are different.” Thus, she “sought out volunteers to represent different ethnicities, religions, nationalities, occupations, characteristics and hobbies.”

One example:

Abbas Al Sharif and Roula Bachour, of Logan, presented themselves as a book on their homeland, Lebanon.

“It is exciting to be part of this,” said Al Sharif, 29. “We had never heard of a human library before.”

“We are a two-volume book with two points of view,” Bachour, 30, said with a laugh. “People have asked me whether Muslims and Christians can live together, and about the tension.”

The report ends tantalizingly, saying, “USU’s Human Library project is part of a larger movement founded in 2000.” But it says nothing more.

Can anyone out there fill us in on this charming “movement”?


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives