Write Stuff – Human Library Day

Libraries are wonderful things. They come in all shapes and sizes, hold a wealth of stories and adventures, and are willing to share their contents, good and bad, with everyone. No, we’re not talking about traditional libraries; these are human libraries, and January 26 marks the first National Human Library Day in Canada.

A human library is a volunteer who acts as a book, telling stories and answering questions for the ?readers? who borrow it. A simple idea, but its goals run deep. As the Human Library site explains, the idea grew from a youth organization called Stop the Violence. Five young people in Copenhagen had formed the group after their friend was stabbed.

By 2000, the organization had grown to 30,000 members across Denmark, and the director of the popular Roskilde Festival challenged them to organize an event for the festival. The Human Library was born.

This year, 15 Canadian cities will take part in National Human Library Day, including Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Yellowknife, St. John’s, Ottawa, and Hamilton.

Wondering what kinds of ?books? you can borrow? There’s the story of Nick Denis, a student in the final year of a Ph.D. in biochemistry, who dropped out to pursue a career in mixed martial arts fighting. Rising to the top of his game, he retired because of the potential for brain damage.

In Thunder Bay, you can find out about Kevin Reiner?a trapper who helps work an area some 200 kilometres square. And in Surrey, BC, you can meet Danielle Kisser, a teenager who has ?been a soccer player, made the B rep team in softball, spent 8 years riding horses and made her high school basketball team several years in a row??even though she stands just four feet tall.

Then there are the intensely personal stories: the recovering drug, alcohol, and gambling addict who has turned his life around to counsel others; the director of a play on homophobia who was later beaten for his views; the young woman who, at 22, identified as transgendered and began the long journey from female to male.

All these human books have fascinating stories to tell, and it takes a certain bravery to open up in public, to complete strangers, about the details within life’s pages.

But National Human Library Day is also about the bravery of readers. It’s about the willingness to confront prejudices. To listen, to engage, to ask questions of people you might never otherwise meet?and might normally avoid. It means stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a risk.

On January 26, if You’re going to be near one of the 15 host cities, plan an hour or so to open a ?book? you wouldn’t typically choose. You’re sure to hear an interesting tale. But more than that, you might just open your mind.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).