‘Hu­man li­brary’ at Mount Al­li­son Univer­sity will give readers chance to take out liv­ing book


– Are fu­neral di­rec­tors mor­bid and creepy old men who wear dark clothes, have cold, clammy hands, and smell of formalde­hyde?

Are veg­e­tar­i­ans a bunch of skinny and weak, salad eat­ing hip­pies? Are pro­fes­sors ab­sent-minded? Are li­brar­i­ans mousy and dull women who wear glasses, dowdy clothes, and have their hair in a bun? Are the el­derly slow, frail, for­get­ful, and be­hind the times? Are physics stu­dents nerdy and ob­sessed with video games and comic books? Are foot­ball play­ers loud and dumb? Are hockey moms ob­nox­ious, crazy, and em­bar­rass­ing? I could go on, but I think you get the idea. These are all ex­am­ple of stereo­types - com­monly held be­liefs about what mem­bers of var­i­ous groups look like and how they be­have.

I think it’s safe to say that no one is im­mune to stereo­typ­ing. In many cases, our stereo­types are not even based on first-hand ex­pe­ri­ences with mem­bers of a par­tic­u­lar group. In­stead, we of­ten “ab­sorb” our stereo­types through tele­vi­sion, books or from oth­ers ( fam­ily mem­bers and friends). Some would ar­gue that re­ly­ing on stereo­types - lump­ing all mem­bers of the same group to­gether - helps peo­ple to sim­plify how they look at the world. The mere men­tion of a group’s name (or sight of a group mem­ber) is of­ten enough to bring the group’s stereo­type to mind, pro­vid­ing us with lots of in­for­ma­tion about them . . . or so we think. Be­cause our stereo­types are gen­er­al­iza­tions about an en­tire group, they are of­ten over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tions and wrong, and be­cause stereo­types of­ten con­tain neg­a­tive con­tent, they can lead to prej­u­dices against oth­ers - dis­lik­ing them solely be­cause they be­long to a par­tic­u­lar group - and dis­crim­i­na­tion (treat­ing them dif­fer­ently be­cause of their group mem­ber­ship).

If you hold a stereo­type(s) about an­other per­son’s group, job, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, etc., then you are cor­dially in­vited to visit the “hu­man li­brary”, pre­sented by Stephen Clax­ton-old­field’s ad­vanced top­ics in so­cial psy- chol­ogy class. What is a hu­man li­brary? The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the hu­man li­brary and, say, the Mount Al­li­son Univer­sity and Main Street li­braries is that the books in a “hu­man li­brary are liv­ing, breath­ing, hu­man be­ings - in­di­vid­u­als rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent groups fre­quently con­fronted with stereo­types - who have agreed to be “lent out” to in­ter­ested readers.

Be­com­ing a reader is easy. The hu­man li­brary will be held in the multi-pur­pose room on the first floor of the Wal­lace Mccain Stu­dent Cen­tre on York Street on Thurs­day, March 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All you need to do is reg­is­ter at the desk and get your free li­brary card - one of our friendly li­brar­i­ans will be happy to is­sue one and they can help in choos­ing a book. To aid in iden­ti­fy­ing stereo­types, the li­brar­i­ans will have a “cat­a­logue” of avail­able books, with ex­am­ples of the most com­mon stereo­types. Here is a par­tial list of some of the book ti­tles that will be avail­able for loan: fu­neral di­rec­tor, veg­e­tar­ian, fe­male hockey player, foot­ball player, fem­i­nist, gay male, univer­sity pro­fes­sor, les­bian, min­is­ter, physics stu­dent, Na­tive Cana­dian, con­cert pi­anist, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and more.

There are lots of rea­sons to take out a liv­ing book. It will, for ex­am­ple, give peo­ple a chance to ask those ques­tions they’ve al­ways wanted to ask, of­fer­ing knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of oth­ers who are fre­quently sub­jected to stereo­types. The hu­man li­brary project en­cour­ages hon­est and open dis­cus­sion be­tween readers and books. The key to break­ing down stereo­types is un­der­stand­ing.

Books will be avail­able for a max­i­mum loan pe­riod of 30 min­utes and must be re­turned in the same con­di­tion as they were in at the time of check­out, but readers’ at­ti­tudes can (hope­fully) be changed. Books can be taken around the li­brary (there will be plenty of “read­ing ar­eas” avail­able) but not out­side the li­brary. All of the books in the hu­man li­brary have vol­un­teered to be lent out as ex­am­ples of com­mon stereo­types held by peo­ple. It’s free and open to ev­ery­one - stu­dents, fac­ulty, staff, and towns­peo­ple.

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