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Looking beyond a book's cover

Skylar Conover

Skylar Conover, above, a rehabilitation counseling graduate student who uses a wheelchair, considers herself an open book.

Ask her a question about her disability — she was diagnosed in 2005 with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease that deteriorates muscles over time — and she will be eager to answer it. And that’s why she plans to participate in the Human Library again.

The Human Library, co-sponsored by UNT Libraries and the UNT Multicultural Center, will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 17-18 in the Willis Library, Forum. Volunteers are currently being sought for this year’s event.

The “books” are volunteers who have experienced prejudice due to issues such as race, gender, age, disability, ethnic origin, class, sexual orientation, gender identity or lifestyle choices. The Human Library concept was developed in 2000 by members of the Danish youth organization Stop the Violence. More than 60 countries now participate.

The first UNT Human Library took place in February, with members of the UNT community — graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff — sharing their experiences as Latinos, gays, Muslims, persons with disabilities, police officers, African Americans, vegans and many other groups who are often misunderstood. They talked to students in 15- to 30-minute conversations.

Students peppered Conover with light questions, such as “Do you drive?" They also asked deeper questions, such as “How were you diagnosed?” and “What did you go through when you found out?”

“Whenever I am talking to someone I let him or her know right off the bat that they can ask me any question and that nothing is off limits. I won’t get offended and I will tell them the truth,” Conover said. “Most of the time that is the problem. People are so afraid to ask questions because they are worried they might offend that individual. I am not afraid to hold anything back. What I hope other people get out of the Human Library is that we are all people and we all want to be accepted.”

Samantha Whittington, a senior music major, talked about her experiences as a biracial woman who converted to Islam in 2012. She was pleasantly surprised by the polite and friendly “readers," she said.

“I was completely expecting to be attacked for my choices, so it was very relieving and a bit of an eye opener for me to realize that not everyone is out to attack others,” she said. “As ‘books’ and ‘readers’ share their experiences, both sides walk away with the realization that the other person is just like them — human. The only difference between us is our choices.” 

Coby CondreyCollection Development Librarian Coby Condrey also participated, answering questions about feminism, secular humanism and homosexuality.

He said he was encouraged by the small number of questions about homosexuality, which he believes is evidence that young adults are more accepting of those in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered community, but he said most of his “readers” were unaware of the social impact of the feminist movement. He believes his discussion of secular humanism showed that non-followers of traditional religion can have a strong set of ethical and moral principles.

Jesse Silva, below, who heads the Government Documents Department for UNT Libraries, talked about his life as a gay Latino.

“The people I talked with were friendly and wanted to know about my experiences in life, both good and bad because of my identity,” he said. “I hope everyone who participated walked away with a better idea of what life is like for folks who are different from them. If it opened their mind a bit, all the better.”      

Organizers are seeking volunteers for this year’s event. Volunteer "books" do not have to be present for both days of the event. The time commitment would be one or two shifts of three and a half hours, plus a one hour training session a week or two before the event.

  • Learn more: contact Diane Wahl or read the attachment below. 

- Jessica DeLeón, University Relations, Communications and Marketing, and Caroline Booth, UNT Libraries

(Above, rehabilitation counseling graduate student Skylar Conover. Middle, Collection Development Librarian Coby Condrey. Below, Government Documents Department head Jesse Silva. Photos by Michael Clements/URCM)

Jesse Silva

Human Library Book Recruiting Information.pdf188.1 KB

Posted on: Mon 29 July 2013

Owning Excellence

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