Human Library Project: Don’t judge a book by its cover

What is a Human Library? Like 8 Minute Dating, only completely different.

I know this because I was honored to be asked to participate in the Human Library Project at Goffstown High School as a “book,” and speak with student “readers” interested in a career in writing.

IMG_1901The event, held April 16 at Goffstown High School, was a twist on what has become an international effort to break down barriers and stereotypes. The Human Library Project began a dozen years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, a response to an act violence, and an effort to build community.

Since then, it’s morphed into whatever a community needs it to be – a bridge toward community building in South Korea, or a spotlight for highlighting the need in Russia for breaking down barriers. You can read more here about the international movement at

For the New Hampshire students, it was a chance to meet, one-on-one, with “human books,” people recruited from the community who were there to provide some insight into career choices and talk about how they found their way to doing what they love.

Every time a bell rings, students can move to a new table and “read” a new human book.IMG_1896

The Goffstown High School event was the third in a series of three Human Library Projects organized by school librarian Melissa Mannon, and her colleagues,  Sandy Whipple and Carolyn White Gamtso.

It was a first for New Hampshire.

“I started as a reader at Goffstown Public Library two weeks ago. I was a Human book as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors (April 15)  at University of New Hampshire at Manchester event. Today I am an organizer at Goffstown High School. This has been a great experience for us all,” said Mannon.

The Human Library experience also gives students the opportunity to see how  different career choices can impact lifestyles. It was designed to be a comfortable experience where students could feel free to ask any questions they want without embarrassment or judgment, Mannon said.

I was stationed at Table 19, and had three “readers” for the event – Alex, an aspiring journalist who wants to be a foreign war correspondent; Alexis, a budding novelist; and Emily, who wants to be a pharmacist.IMG_1899

As it turned out, the person Emily came to speak to was not available, so I did my best to “read” her and her interest in pharmacology, then channeled my inner guidance counselor and tapped my endless internal library of professions I’ve written about, which fortunately included a brush with a compound pharmacist.

I learned Emily also is considering a career in physical therapy, and was able to point her in the direction of my fellow human book, Rhoda Sommer of Anytime Fitness.

I found this event to be inspiring – in particular because it brings people together to talk about things that matter to them.  Face-to-face conversation is something that unfortunately has been eclipsed by the ease of computerized social networking.

I see this as a great way to build community – Human Libraries to help citizens get to know their elected officials or city workers; for students to get to know their classroom teachers in a different way; for neighbors to get to know neighbors, which helps us to understand that we all have a unique life story to tell, but underneath it all, we share the common bond of humanity – which is as comforting as it is life affirming.

Click here to read about the Human Library “books” who participated in the April 16 Goffstown High School event.

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