I had the honour to be part of the Human Library Project this year in my city and a friend asked if I would write a blog post about the experience. It was a unique experience and I’m not sure where to start, so let’s start with a definition.
On the Human Library Day, readers get to “borrow” a Human Book for a 20 minute one-on-one conversation. The premise of the Human Library project is to give individuals the opportunity to meet people they would not otherwise encounter. A week before the Human Library day, I had the chance to appreciate the Human Library experience when I attended the Human Book orientation. When I arrived, I sat beside Zelda Marshall also known as The Drag Queen book. I shook her hand and introduced myself as The Mother of 8 book and her response was an enthusiastic: “Wow! I have a ton of questions for YOU!” and all I could think was: “Likewise”. It made me realize that mothers of 8 children were likely as foreign to Zelda’s day-to-day environment as Drag Queens were to mine. I didn’t get to ask many questions to Zelda that day, but as the Human Books introduced themselves one by one I grew in my appreciation of the unique opportunities offered by the Human Library project.
A week later, I arrived at my assigned library branch and met my fellow books. I was sharing the Human Library space with a recovering compulsive gambler, a Chef, a female firefighter, a person living with bipolar disorder, and a CBC radio newscaster. The Human Library set-up takes up a relatively small corner of the library space. Chairs are organized face-to-face but each book is separated from the other by a shared coffee table. You are no more isolated than you would be in a coffee shop having a private conversation with other customers chatting around you. Readers line-up at the library counter and ask to borrow the Human Book they would like to speak to. If they are among the first, they can go right away. If not, they are asked to come back at their assigned time. I believe that all the books were signed-out for the day before lunch time. Each one-on-one conversation lasts 20 minutes and the Human Book gets a 10 minute break before the next reader. In reality, the conversation wraps-up into the 10 minute break and a 5 minute break is more likely. I was warned early-on to take my breaks as the day would be exhausting. I think that “exhausting” is a relative notion: I was sitting in a comfy chair with a coffee instead of chasing, driving, cooking for, grocery shopping with, and generally cleaning after a family of 10. This was fun! But when I got home, I was spent!
My readers were all female and either young women with one or no children, or older women. It’s funny because I was expecting more women with children but really, they can’t come to the Human Library on a Saturday. They are too busy running their families! Some readers came with specific questions. Others just sat and waited for me to start. Then each conversation took a life of its own. Most readers were curious about the role of the older children in taking care of the little ones, the logistics of cooking and cleaning and how growing in a large family affects the character and personalities of the children. One young woman wanted to talk about contraception, human sexuality, natural family planning and the relationship between spouses in a large family. We talked about teenage pregnancies, abortion and why too many young women see their value through the lens of their sexual availability and desirability. It was my most memorable conversation. One grand-mother asked specifically about disciplining toddlers in preparation for a trip to visit her daughter and grandson. I don’t remember all my readers’ names but I remember their faces. Each of them unique. Each conversation breaking barriers and enlarging horizons.
I loved every minute of my Human Library experience. I enjoyed doing media, a long-lost dream of mine. I enjoyed talking about my blessed life – and challenges – as a Mother of 8. I really connected with my readers and I hope that they took home as much as I did.