Mary Farmer-Kaiser is committed to keeping her community in touch.

With world-wide travel and the bottomless pit of information online, different cultures are interacting more than ever before. Recently, the dean of the grad school at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette put together a tool that would help her community blossom.

When Mary Farmer-Kaiser was discussing the idea of bringing the Human Library to Louisiana, she received a nod from two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. At that moment in 2021, Mary knew it was a good idea.

What Is the Human Library?

group of diverse people with their hands around each other
Photo by fauxels

The Human Library is an organization that originated in Denmark. The idea behind it is to have people volunteer to be open books. Readers “borrow” a book and have a conversation with a person they would otherwise rarely interact with. 

The human books represent groups in society who are often subjected to prejudice, discrimination or stigmatization because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin and more. It is a perfect method to bring out similarities between communities.

Mary Farmer-Kaiser worked for two years to secure funding for a Human Library event in Louisiana. This past May, she received it. Mary says the pursuit of putting together the event was driven by curiosity and a desire to know other people.

“To break down stereotypes, something I’ll continue to work toward till my dying day,” she said. “When we embrace our humanity, we take care of our community. This community means a lot to all of us. The Human Library is an opportunity to get to know your community.”

For the event in Louisiana, Mary and her team selected 23 “books” and put them in training. Examples of human book titles available for the event in Lafayette include a cancer survivor, an adoptee, a minister, a beauty queen, an angry Black female, someone with ADHD, parents of a trans child and more. “It’s a beautifully well developed method. It’s a plug and play,” Mary said. “A lot of training goes into it to make sure everyone understands what the purpose is, in not judging people, but in having dialogue.”

How the Human Library Is Educating the Community

Mary says her top priority in hosting this event is making sure everyone involved gets treated with respect.

It’s not easy for people to open up to strangers but it is necessary for a community to grow stronger. “Our No. 1 job is to ensure our books are borrowed and returned in the same condition,” she said. “When a human reader comes, we help them get a library card and review the titles available and decide which one they would like to borrow.”

Mary Farmer-Kaiser and her team saw an opportunity to further educate their community and went full steam ahead.

Not only do the readers benefit from the conversations they’re having, but the books also further their ability to speak to people of different backgrounds. “Some may turn into librarians instead of books. One book said, ‘I love everything about this, but I’m not ready to be published yet,’” Mary said.

With a social landscape that’s changing quickly, events like the Human Library bring people closer than ever before. We should all strive to be an open book.

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