GOFFSTOWN — While books, movies and CDs can be checked out at most libraries, some libraries across the country have begun loaning out humans, and the trend is coming to New Hampshire.
Librarians at the Goffstown Public Library, Goffstown High School and the University of New Hampshire at Manchester have joined forces to be the first to bring what’s called the “Human Library” project to the Granite State.
The intent of the project is to connect patrons with people who have interesting stories to tell so that those stories can be passed on like the oral traditions that preceded the printing press and the personal computer. The project is intended to give “readers” a chance to look beyond the “cover” of the human book, to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes, and to create new levels of understanding between people.
Melissa Mannon, the library and information specialist at Goffstown high School said she came across a story about the Human Library project and immediately knew it was something she had to explore. When Sandy Whipple, the adult services and outreach coordinator at Goffstown Public Library expressed an interest, the two began to run with the idea. Carolyn Gamtso, the reference and instructional librarian at UNH Manchester, said Whipple and Mannon, “reeled me right in.”
“Real time, face-to-face communication may be something that’s getting lost,” said Whipple.
“This is an opportunity to step back from technology and learn from a person first-hand,” said Gamtso.
To introduce the concept of the Human Library to the public, the librarians have decided to hold events in April at their respective institutions.
At the Goffstown Public Library on April 6, Whipple said the public is invited to “check out” a variety of human books for 15 minute sessions, to hear their stories and to ask questions. A peace activist, a psychic medium, and Vietnam veteran are among the “human books” that will be available from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
On April 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at UNH in Manchester, readers from the campus and the community can sign up for special library cards that will allow them to sit and talk with a refugee from Tibet, a victim of bullying and two faculty members who are hearing impaired, among others.
Mannon is using the project to connect students with people who have unusual careers, or are unusual in their career fields. On April 16, juniors at the high school will have an opportunity to sit down with a variety of people, to learn about their work, and to ask questions. Before the event, students will signify which human books they wish to sign out, and they’ll be given 15 minutes to meet with each of their chosen “books.” The books include a successful artist, an engineer who test-flies airplanes, a female roofer, and an experienced naturopath.
“Every community has its own unique voices,” said Gamtso. “This is an opportunity for those voices to be heard.”
The April events are designed to give the project a trial run, to see what works and what doesn’t, and to consider how the project can be used by the libraries in the future. There are ideas floating around about bringing the Human Library into classrooms via technology like Skype, or finding ways to connect community members with the human books as part of a library’s catalogue“We all have big ideas,” said Mannon.
“I’d love to see this project grow and see every library embrace this,” said Whipple.