Augustana hosted its 22nd annual Human Library event on Monday, October 7th, 2019. Over the years, the Augustana Human Library has brought many unique stories to campus and made it possible for people to talk about important issues and experiences that help to promote greater understanding and lessen the stigma surrounding these topics. Some of the topics from previous years include life as a transgender person, being a refugee, living through sexual abuse, alcoholism, and physical/cognitive challenges. A human library is described as an initiative in which people called ‘’Readers’ who want to learn about a specific topic ‘check out’ people called ‘Human Books’ for an hour of conversation.

I spoke with Reference Librarian Kara Blizzard, who organized this year’s Human Library event and she informed me that every Human Library is different because the Library invites different Human Books, and different people come and participate each time. She also explained the reason that Augustana has a Human Library: “Generally it is about reducing prejudice and discrimination and getting people to really listen and engage with each other, and empathize more. So that’s the reason for it here, it is about encouraging conversations that can be really difficult to have, or just creating that safe space too. It relates to things that are going on at the U of A and Augustana related to inclusion and diversity.”

This year’s event had a number of Human Books including topics such as being a gender queer two-spirit, the social constructs of masculinity, bipolar disorder, childhood sexual abuse, atheism, autism, escaping war, the story of Camrose Lutheran College (now Augustana), the experience of being taken from family for being Indigenous, and confronting the myths and realities of ‘disability’. I attended two Human Books, “I was a hungry Billionaire,” a story told by Tomiscov Terzin about surviving the 1993 Serbian Hyperinflation and NATO bombing and Levi Borejko’s story, “The Ups and Downs of Being Bipolar”, which opened discussion about what it is like to have an illness that some people think is not real or perceive as dangerous and the complexities of life with mental illness. When asked why he decided to share his story at the Human Library, Terzin responded: “I have been part of the Augustana Human Library since 2010, every year I offer my story, and the reason for that is that I think that people here can benefit from that story, they can draw something from it, which can be applied here in Canada, that is the reason I share it… because of international politics, people are now more aware that there are many problems. These things that happened in former Yugoslavia and eastern Europe in the 1990’s are now perceived differently, and people do not just buy anything they hear from global media. Now, people are more cautious and they measure different information and sources.” Terzin believes people need to think for themselves, and the Human Library helps to bring awareness, which is a positive thing. Terzin said that the Human Library is beneficial in order “…to become better and have a broader perspective to life.” In his opinion, gaining experience and perspective are the main benefits of the Human Library.

Borejko spoke about managing mental health and fighting stigma, experiencing different brain states, her method of mindfulness, and the advantage of a support network and creative outlets. I asked Borejko why she decided to share her story and what the benefits are, and she replied: “…I see the benefits it has had to me and to other people in the past. Lessening the stigma around mental illness is a big one for me; the more people I can talk to, the more people I can reach, the easier it will be in the future.” She hopes that listeners will gain perspective, a better understanding, clarity, and something new to think about from attending the human library.

The Human Library encourages conversations that don’t always happen in other places, it is a great experience to learn about a topic that is unfamiliar and step out of your comfort zone, or to learn about something that you are familiar with from someone else’s perspective. It provides the opportunity to engage with something new and learn something different. The Human Library is about bringing the book to you, listening to a person’s experience and having the opportunity to ask questions and create awareness and understanding.

(Originally published November 6, 2019)

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