Professor, students prepping Human Library event

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A Human Library will be coming to SVSU on Tuesday, March 21, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on the first floor of the Zahnow Library.

The event will feature about a dozen members from the local community who have had unique or traumatic experiences or who come from stereotyped populations in order to give a face to marginalized or underrepresented populations.

Sherrin Frances, a professor in the English department, and Victoria Phelps, a third-year English major history and creative writing minor, have been the main organizers and co-chairs of the Human Library.

“An event like this will provide SVSU students with an opportunity to speak in-depth with people who have dramatically different life experiences, histories, and perspectives than the students themselves,” Frances said.

After hearing about the Human Library Organization, which originated in Denmark about 16 years ago, Frances decided to bring the idea to SVSU’s campus. To help her organize, Frances reached out to Phelps.

After taking Frances’ course focused on libraries and institutional powers in the Fall 2015 semester, Phelps and her professor discussed bringing a Human Library to SVSU. That discussion led to Phelps’ research of other Human Library events around the country.

“Last summer, I reached out to organizers from other institutions to figure out how they set up their events and get some advice from them,” Phelps said.

After doing some research about other similar events, Frances applied for a Foundation Resource Grant during the Fall 2016 semester. With funding acquired, Frances formed a committee. Its members include Director of the Melvin J. Zahnow Library Anita Dey, Head of Research Services Scott Mellendorf and Sigma Tau Delta’s President Kaylee McDonald, along with other students and faculty members. The committee helped to organize the event and decides the event’s date and location. In addition, the committee decided how to recruit volunteers to serve as “books.”

“(Mellendorf) and I assisted (Frances) in locating a space in the library to hold the event,” Dey said.

Mellendorf’s goal for the Human Library is to help students effectively organize and conduct an event.

“Seeing their commitment during all phases of this event has been inspiring to me and has given me a perspective I seldom witness,” he said.

Sigma Tau Delta has been involved in helping to organize and promote the Human Library, and its members will attend to ensure it runs smoothly.

“I have helped with advertising the event and working to recruit more volunteers,” McDonald said. “(Phelps) is also our Sigma Tau Delta vice president. Our other members have also helped us with advertising the event.”

To date, 12 “books” have been recruited, but Frances hopes to have 13 the day of the event. Possible “titles” include “mother of an autistic child,” “rape survivor” and “organ transplant recipient,” according to Frances. Attendants of the event will have the opportunity to “check out” one “book” at a time. To protect the participants’ identities, neither names nor contact information will be released.

Once “checked out,” the “book” will have between 15 and 30 minutes with the person who checked him/her out. The first few minutes of the conversation will consist of the “book” briefly recounting his/her story. The remaining time will be used for an open, respectful conversation between the two people. The conversational aspect of the event is important to Frances.

“Based on the heated, divisive rhetoric generated during the presidential campaigning in the fall of 2016, it seems clear that creating safe, facilitated spaces for meaningful conversation among people with different beliefs, experiences, and histories is more valuable than ever,” Frances said.

The Human Library seeks to open channels of communication between people who may not normally interact in daily life.

“We hope the event leads community members to have conversations with other community members who are more outside their typical social circles in order to expand their understanding and empathy for people who are often stereotyped,” Phelps said.

The organizers encourage anyone interested in learning about or attending the event to check out its Facebook page. The page provides more information about the event and, beginning this week, will feature the finalized titles for the “books” and a blurb about them.

Note: Phelps is a reporter for the Vanguard.