East Providence co-sponsors ‘Human Library’ event

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Joyce May, the Adult Services coordinator for the East Providence Library system, can hardly contain her enthusiasm for her latest project, and she’s hoping the community similarly embraces the concept.

After eight months in the planning, Mrs. May and many of her peers will present the first Human Library Rhode Island event, which takes place Sunday, March 3, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Providence Rochambeau Branch Library located on 708 Hope St.

A collaboration of the East Providence Public Library, the Barrington Public Library and the Providence Community Library, Human Library Rhode Island attempts to provide users with a unique opportunity to meet more than 40 “Human” Books representing the great diversity of the state.

“It really is a great project because it truly is a collaborative and it brings so many diverse people together. Even the planning committee was made up of people with a variety of life experiences,” Mrs. May explained.

“There are four basic principles to the Human Library,” she continued. “One, it gives others the opportunity to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. Two, it gives people an opportunity to see life from a different perspective. Three, hopefully it allows people to have a better understanding of others. And four, it’s a chance to have a conversation in a respectful manner. It’s a safe environment to engage in a meaningful discussion.”

According to its literature, the Human Library is a worldwide project designed to challenge views, which lead to misunderstanding, prejudice and discrimination within communities. It is a way of bringing people together so that they can learn more about each other in a safe and respectful environment.

And a “Human” Book is a person who has volunteered to tell their personal story and answer questions about their life and experiences. Each author in some way has experienced prejudice or disadvantage due to their race, gender, age, disability, ethnic or community background, sexual preference, beliefs or lifestyle choices.

“I think we all get too settled in our own little lives,” Mrs. May explained. “This is a chance for people to be more interactive with their communities. These aren’t just any stories. They’re unique. They’ve all experienced some sort of prejudice in their lives. Their stories are a way for each of us to understand how we often misjudge people. And it’s also a way for us to deal with our own preconceived notions.”

An East Providence native is one of the “authors.” Carolyn Davis gives voice to her story,  “Tale of a Guinea Pig.” Ms. Davis was born with spastic cerebral palsy. She persevered through her ailment to become the first East Providence resident to attend public school from the first to the 12th grades in a wheel chair.

She later also became the first wheelchair-user to be admitted to Brown University. She eventually worked or studied in six countries and became one of the initial wheelchair-users to be accepted as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, spending three years in Jamaica.

“Carolyn’s story is a great example of the Human Library. Her story, like the others, run the gamut of the life experience,” Mrs. May said.

Mrs. May said the Human Library works like a regular library. The Human Books have agreed to meet other members of the community who are called “readers.” After browsing through a catalog with a title and a description for each book, a reader
may select a Human Book to check out for a one-on-one conversation. Readers may ask questions and learn about life from the Human Book’s perspective for about 20 minutes. They can “renew” their book and extend their loan period if time permits Readers may also check out several books as time allows.

Some 80 people, including dozens of volunteers, helped prepare the event. The library collaborative also received a $1,500 contribution from the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities.

“This is the first time we’ve had a ‘Human Library’ and we would really like to take it statewide. We’re also hoping to make it an annual event,” Mrs. May said. “We all felt very protective and honored to be responsible for the event. It’s really about civic engagement.”

The Human Library is an international program. It was spawned in 2000 by a Danish youth organization called “Stop the Violence” as a response to violence and intolerance which had resulted in deaths in its community. The idea quickly took off, and since has been 60 countries throughout the world, including Brazil, China, Malaysia, South Africa, Romania, Italy, Holland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Mrs. May noted the most recent Human Library Day in Canada took place at 24 sites across the country.

The first Human Library to be held in the United States took place in 2008 in Washington State and California. Since, they have proved to be a so popular at some libraries around the country that they have led to the establishment of regular program events.

“I know it sounds like pie in the sky, but I want to believe a one-on-one conversation can lead to more understanding,” Mrs. May added.

For more information about Sunday’s event e-mail humanlibraryri@provcomlib.org, visit www.HumanLibraryRhodeIsland.com or www.facebook.com: Human Library Rhode Island.

Locally, East Providence is offering a free bus ride to the event. The bus has a seating capacity for 20 people will be available from Weaver Library. Contact Mrs. May at eplibraryjoyce@yahoo.com or 434-2453 to reserve a seat.

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