You’ve heard the expression about an ability to “read a person like a book.” That was just what participants in DMU’s first Human Library event on April 12 were able to do: to talk with and learn from people who served as “books” as a way to share their stories.
The Human Library is a concept created in 2000 by activists protesting violence in Denmark. Now a global movement, it’s a way for community members to learn more about populations of people different from themselves who have experienced prejudice, stigma, stereotyping or discrimination. “Readers” participate by checking out the “books” for conversations in a safe space to promote knowledge, challenge stigma and encourage cultural competency and compassion.
At the DMU event, books included “Teen Mom,” “Bi-Muslim,” “Disability Pride” and “Living the Fight Against Bias, Bigotry and Racism.” These and other individuals shared their experiences with mental illness, homophobia, poverty, bullying and other negative attitudes and issues.
“I thought sharing my story of growing up within a physician shortage area and how it affected me was important for future health care providers,” stated one of the books after the event. “It was fun and educational for everyone, even the books.”
In evaluations they completed after participating in the Human Library, readers unanimously praised the event.
“There are so many different points of view and experiences in the world. It is extremely important to learn more about differences on a personal level,” wrote one. “Reading about these from a book can only take you so far in terms of cultural and experiential competency.”
Because the Human Library is intended to challenge stereotypes and promote respect for difference and diversity, it’s particularly valuable for DMU students and other future health care professionals. Stigmas, prejudice and discrimination can diminish a person’s ability to find or willingness to use health care if they fear they’ll be misunderstood or maligned.
The Human Library also supports the mission of DMU – to improve lives in our global community by educating diverse groups of highly competent and compassionate health professionals.
“Libraries have always inspired discovery, encouraged learning and brought people together. Hosting the Human Library at Des Moines University gave us the opportunity to celebrate that ethos on a larger scale, helping our community to connect, learn and understand each other better,” says Natalie Hutchinson, M.S., director of the DMU Library and associate professor. “My hope is that participants’ experiences at the event will encourage both books and readers to continue having these kinds of conversations in their lives, creating a ripple effect in the DMU community and beyond.”