n the coming weeks, Case Western Reserve University is hosting its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The events span three weeks, beginning on Jan. 16 with a student symposium and culminating on Feb. 3 with the MLK Convocation featuring Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures.” Keeping in line with this year’s theme, “Hope in Solidarity,” the Kelvin Smith Library (KSL) is hosting a Human Library on Friday, Jan. 27 from noon to 2 p.m.
The Human Library is similar to a book library, but people, rather than books, are on loan. Readers will come to KSL, check out a human “book” and start a conversation. “The goal of it is to create a platform—to create a discussion—about issues that are challenging,” said Sarah Jorgenson, the Finance and Administration coordinator at KSL who also leads the event. “I feel like the really crucial part is to have that safe environment where both sides can ask questions and … are focusing on achieving an understanding, rather than being judgemental.”
The concept of the Human Library originated in Copenhagen in the spring of 2000, when Stop the Violence, a youth movement, hosted the first Human Library at Roskilde Festival. With 75 “books” available from a variety of backgrounds and hundreds of visitors, the event became an opportunity for people from all walks of life to communicate and create lines of dialogue to challenge stereotypes and prejudices. Seeing the potential in their idea, the organizers of the event created Human Library Organization, a nonprofit that helps guide and influence events all over the world, including the one here at CWRU.
Since CWRU is a diverse campus, Jorgenson feels that the human library is a good opportunity for people who have experienced bias and prejudice, or felt the effects of stigmas and stereotypes, to communicate and share their stories.
“I feel that Case has a really great community. It’s really diverse,” said Jorgenson. “We have people from all over the place, from so many different walks of life. I think [people coming] just from the Case community itself would be really great, but this is also such a great area in general, where we could hopefully reach so many people.”
The Human Library and its intended goals also align with the MLK Celebration’s theme this year: “Hope in Solidarity.” This theme was created by the campus’ MLK Celebration committee, and in light of the recent election and polarized feelings across the country, it seems especially fitting. “Right now, Americans are being split and divided in so many different ways, and in the end we are just people. We are all the same underneath, [and] I think that’s more important to remember than the superficial things,” Jorgenson said.
For Gail Reese, associate director of Public Engagement Services and Library Administration, the Human Library is an opportunity for people to move from isolation to a more diverse community. If a “book” is on the shelf, it is alone and segregated, but if its ideas and issues are shared, new opportunities arise. “It is more [a chance for] understanding, I think, for that person, as well as for the community and world,” Reese explained.
Despite the fact that the Human Library is an event for the whole Cleveland community to come and experience, the fact that it occurs at CWRU in KSL also makes it an event primarily for the university. For Jorgenson, the event is an opportunity for the library to reach many people through the CWRU community, as “Case has a really great community of people from all over the place.”
The community’s diversity leads to many students, faculty and staff members participating in discussions on a variety of different topics, from movies shown on campus to harmful stereotypes ignorantly proliferated. The event is a way for these discussions to happen in-person in a safe, comfortable environment on campus. As Reese said, “Whatever we can do to just bring more cohesiveness and understanding amongst faculty, students and staff, [is] a good thing.”