‘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.