Living library adds humanity to history

Alyssa Archer, right, talks about the Human Library with a recent Radford alum, left.
Alyssa Archer, right, talks about the Human Library with a recent Radford alumus, left.

At the sixth annual Human Library at Radford University, a human touch was added to history.

Volunteers from both the Radford family and the surrounding community told their personal stories to students and passersby, taking on the role of human books. This year, these stories included the recollections of Radford’s first co-ed student, world travelers, reproductive rights and perspectives from different racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious identities.

“We want this program to bring our community closer together – our Radford community – through the sharing of personal stories,” said Alyssa Archer, instruction librarian in McConnell Library. “It’s not about agreeing with each other’s points of views, it’s about listening, gaining empathy through open dialogue.”

One of the human books was Radford University senior Shayna Gutcho of Ashburn, who shared her unique story with other students.

“I think I have a very interesting perspective,” Gutcho said. “I am Jewish – of the ethnicity and faith – and I am also gay. Often times, you focus on one or the other, but you don’t often focus on both. I thought that was really important to talk about.”

Some of the groups Gutcho spoke with said she was the first person of Jewish descent they had met, Gutcho said.

“That is very impactful,” Gutcho said. “That’s also crazy to think about that people have gone 18-25 years of their life and they’ve never met a Jewish person, let alone a gay Jewish person. To be able to have that interaction and to be able to say that we’re not different at all – we’re both people who have different lived experiences – that’s really impactful to see.”

Different experiences is the theme of the Human Library, Archer said.

“I wanted them to see the breadth of experience that the people in the Radford community have and understand how they might fit in,” Archer said. “No matter what their identity is or what their beliefs are, they can find a home here.”

The Human Library event is open to anyone that wants to volunteer to share their story, or be a book.

“The volunteers are in charge of what they want to share and the titles and descriptions of their book – as long as they aren’t trying to convince other people of their perspective, we welcome all stories,” Archer said.

The event was sponsored by Student Activities, the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Women’s and Gender Studies program, and McConnell Library. For more information and to watch videos of past events, check out their information online.

Nov 7, 2018
Max Esterhuizen