Books are people, reading a conversation at Human Library of the Fox Valley

Books are people, reading a conversation at Human Library of the Fox Valley

  • Caroline Baty-Barr of Batavia talks with human book Saima Shah of Oswego during the Human Library of the Fox Valley's inaugural event.

      Caroline Baty-Barr of Batavia talks with human book Saima Shah of Oswego during the Human Library of the Fox Valley's inaugural event. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Teal Cyko of Aurora, right, talks with Debbie Leoni of Geneva about autism. With hopes of starting conversations about diversity, the Human Library of the Fox Valley had its inaugural event last month, where "books" were people sharing their experiences.

      Teal Cyko of Aurora, right, talks with Debbie Leoni of Geneva about autism. With hopes of starting conversations about diversity, the Human Library of the Fox Valley had its inaugural event last month, where "books" were people sharing their experiences. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
By Liz Ramos
lramos@dailyherald.com
Posted7/3/2016 7:23 AM

At the Human Library of the Fox Valley, people serve as the books, and reading is the conversations the "books" have with people who stop by to check out this unusual arrangement. It's a one-on-one way to gain knowledge.

"At an event like a human library, a person can come sit and talk and 'read' with a person and ask any questions about certain experiences," said Jennifer DuBose, one of the founders of Fox Valley's human library.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The concept of the human library comes from Copenhagen, Denmark. One of a group of friends enjoying a night out on the town in 1993 was brutally stabbed but survived. In response, the friends created a group, Stop the Violence. The group staged a human library event in 2000 at Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Northern Europe's biggest cultural and music festival, which also supports humanitarian and cultural work. That gave the group, and the human library, its impetus.

Human libraries have a mission: They're meant to challenge stereotypes and start conversations among different people. For the Fox Valley library, the discussion was aimed at diversity. The titles the books chose represent an aspect of who they are.

"The point is we want residents of the Fox Valley to really get that there's quite a bit of diversity here," DuBose said. "We are hoping people in the community will discover that, appreciate it and become acquainted with the people they're living with."

Although not officially part of the Swedish Days festival last month in downtown Geneva, the library took advantage of the foot traffic to set up its inaugural event. Each reader had 17 titles to choose from and about 30 minutes to check out a living book and hear his or her story.

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"We are really hoping to open minds and touch hearts one at a time and believe in the power of those one-on-one conversations," DuBose said. "They are hugely powerful. While it may seem tedious to have a conversation one at a time, that's how change happens."

The event was successful enough to prompt the library to consider doing another event in August.

At the June event, librarians had a role, too -- to monitor the conversations to make sure the books weren't uncomfortable and conversations were running smoothly.

"We make sure the books are treated with the respect they are due," said Sherry Faust, a librarian from St. Charles. "It's to make sure the books are checked back in the same condition they were checked out in."

Aurora resident and human book Hillary Kolby had three stories to share about herself: "Asexual," "Bullying Survivor" and "Hidden Disabilities." Appropriately, she considers herself an "open book" -- she likes to talk to new people and share her story even outside of the human library.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I've always been a shades of gray woman, so I've always been open to any of those topics," she said. "If we get some people to turn how they're feeling about the LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual) community, that's excellent, and get some more people to understand about autism or any of these things, I think we've hit the ball out of the park as far as I'm concerned."

Elgin resident Steve Zrebiec checked out Kolby and said he learned a lot about her, but he hadn't quite fully processed everything she had to say after his session was over.

"I learned that when a person is sitting in a handicap seat and they don't appear to be handicapped, don't assume that they're not," he said, referring to an example Kolby gave about her hidden disabilities. "I would've probably been one of the people thinking, 'Why is she sitting here taking advantage?' I'm embarrassed that I felt that way, but I probably would've been. It was a learning opportunity."

Batavia residents Bob and Caroline Baty-Barr visited the human library because they knew some of the books. Bob said the human library is "the best interactive book ever."

Caroline checked out the book "Liberated Muslim Woman," portrayed by Saima Shah, because Caroline was drawn to Shah's orange hijab and because she didn't know much about the subject.

"I liked being able to ask my own questions and know that the answer is pure," Caroline said, "because it's coming from her lips, her mind, her intelligence, her experience."

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