'Human Library' Returns to U of G

February 23, 2010 - News Release

For 363 days of the year, Chris Langley is a graduate student in the University of Guelph's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. But for two days in March, he'll be a "book" you can borrow from the U of G Library.

Langley is participating for the second year in the University’s Human Library March 4 and 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features volunteer human books representing groups that may face prejudice and stereotyping. "Readers" who want to confront their own prejudices or learn more about the lives of others can borrow a book for 30 minutes of discussion.

“Last year, I thought I would just volunteer to help out with the program,” said Langley, “but then I realized that, as an atheist, I do encounter prejudice. Some people describe atheists as shallow, callous and even evil because of their position on religion. So I decided I might have something to offer by becoming a book.”

Readers thought so, too, because he was borrowed for all but one of his available time slots last year.

U of G librarian Janet Kaufman, who’s organizing the event, said the Human Library “is a great way for people who have strong opinions to talk to someone face to face in a safe setting and really break down the stereotypes.”

So far, she has confirmed about 30 books for this year’s program, with many returning from last year and others introducing new topics. The new books were chosen based on feedback obtained from participants at last year’s event, she said.

The new offerings include a journalist and radio host, a female race car driver, a politician, a former foster child and someone who’s had a double lung transplant. Among the returning books are two gay men, a runner with a disability and a phone sex worker.

Maintaining an atmosphere of respect is crucial, said Kaufman. “Both the books and readers are told they can end the discussion at any time if they feel uncomfortable, but we’ve had no instances of that happening. In fact, we’ve had very positive evaluations from both groups.”

Go online to see a complete list of available books or to sign up to borrow a book.

For media questions, Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338, lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982, d.healey@exec.uoguelph.ca

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