Central New York, Community, Syracuse

Fifth-Annual Human Library Event Emphasizes Human Connection

On a normal day at Syracuse University, students, faculty and staff can head to Bird Library to check out a book or maybe do some homework. But on Wednesday, members of the university community had the option to check out a "human" book. NCC News' Nick Dugan explains how a Human Library event is educating the local community.

By Nick Dugan SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – “I’ve always wanted to be a human book,” Ashley O’Mara admitted. The P.H.D. candidate in the English department at Syracuse University could hardly contain her excitement.

“The idea of embodying the kind of communication that a book has as a person is really appealing to me.”

O’Mara is one of the nearly 15 members of the local community participating in Syracuse University’s fifth-annual Human Library event. Each human “book” was made available in 20-minute time slots this afternoon to chat with “readers” about topics ranging from queer identity to Filipino culture.

The first Human Library was constructed in Denmark in 2000, and since then more than 70 countries have participated in providing this unique experience in various communities.

Here on the Hill, Librarian Abby Kasowitz-Scheer says that the opportunity is all about educating the university community.

“One of the main purposes of the event is to learn about people who are different from them,” she said. “Learn about different cultures and backgrounds.”

“It’s good to do your research on subjects like queer sexuality,” O’Mara said. “But it’s also important to listen to the people who are experiencing it directly.”

And it’s not just the readers that walk away from the day having learned something.

“We also find that the human books also get a lot our of it by talking to the readers and knowing that they’re possibly helping these people or sharing information on topics that are really important to them.”

At its most basic level, the Human Library has a more basic goal: to get people off of their phones, sit down with a friend, or complete stranger, and just talk.

“Just this past weekend I was leading a conversation about why gender and sex are social constructs on Twitter with non-specialists.”

Some users asked her to explain, which she found, was harder than she had anticipated

“Even with the expanded character count on Twitter, it gets really difficult to have extensive, in-depth conversations, one-on-one…”

“Today people are so focused on online communications, social media, texting,” Kasowitz-Scheer said. “We don’t have as many opportunities to actually sit down and have face-to-face conversations.”

But, this event is attempting to change all that – one human interaction at a time.