The Human Library Asks: "What’s Your Prejudice?"

March 21, 2012

It was all part of The Human Library project, an initiative was started in 1993 in Denmark designed to encourage dialogue and positive interaction. Visitors to a Human Library are given the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan.” Readers are given a “catalog card” with labels on it: “Gay,” “Right wing,” “Single mom”, “Old person,” “Young person.” The human books varied in age, sex and cultural background and were willing to share their stories and answer a variety of questions.

The Human Library in Tucson

Its popularity has grown and The Human Library had its own booth at the 2012 Tucson Festival of Books held on the University of Arizona campus, March 10-11, 2012. Stephan Przybylowicz, a graduate student in the School of Information Resources and Library Science, organized the Human Library booth. He was a “reader” at the Human Library that was at the American Library Associations’ Annual Conference in 2010. Stephan said he checked out a “transgender book.” In other words, he was able to sit down and chat informally with someone who identifies as a transgender person. Stephan walked away feeling more knowledgeable and less alone. He was determined to bring to the Human Library to Tucson.

Through a variety of organizations and social media, Stephan was able to acquire a strong “card catalog,” and the booth gradually filled with individuals willing to talk about the labels they experienced: “fatty,” “gay,” “Christian,” “molestation survivor.”  

Reading a Human Book

When charley DeJolie (with a small “c”) signed up to be part of the Festival of Books Human Book project, he “had no end goal in mind; I was mostly there for the experience. “ But he said he would do it again and offer different labels for his readers. At the Festival of Books, he labeled himself as Diné – another name for Navajo – and social activist.

His narrative, one of the many poignant tales told, reveals his transformation from high school dropout to graduate school student and activist. He spoke about attending schools in Northern Arizona, where he observed how many Native Americans like him were placed in the classes for the developmentally delayed. He was so disillusioned that he dropped out of high school. He returned a year later to a Utah public school, where he lived in a Navajo Dormitory. He was tested and learned “gifted” would have been a more apropos label. He was reading at a college level.

When he decided to change his name he knew he wanted to honor his Diné relatives while also protesting their treatment in Anglo Boarding Schools. Like many Diné who attended Indian Boarding schools in the 1950s and 1960s, his relatives were summarily given the last name Charley. DeJolie made charley his first name to honor the past, but spells it without capitalization to acknowledge the outsider status of the Diné. Both readers and their human books were enriched by their experience. DeJolie sums it up: “What I have come to recognize is that even though the booth stated ‘confront your prejudices,’ the individuals that checked me out came with open minds or wanting to experience this event. I found that individuals wanted a human connection and the transference of knowledge.”

The Human Book project, like any great masterpiece, was an exchange of ideas and hopes between the readers and the "books," and well-worth several reads.