Every Book Its Reader: Human Library Recognized for Civic Engagement

Since its debut at GCC in October 2012, the Human Library has gained regional recognition for its unique ability to infuse the democratic process into curriculum that teaches students the importance of civic—and civil—dialogue.

In April 2013 the Maricopa Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) awarded its annual Award of Excellence to the Human Library, citing it as a unique opportunity for students to explore stereotypes, analyze issues and engage in civic dialog. The DAC promotes initiatives throughout the Maricopa Community College District that reflect a commitment to diversity.

The Human Library has also been selected as a featured presentation at the American Democracy Project’s (ADP) conference, held in Denver, CO in June. The ADP conference focuses attention on educational experiences that build the civic skills that today’s college graduates need.

WHAT IS A HUMAN LIBRARY?

The essence of a Human Library includes three components: a human Book, a human Reader, and a Library space for the Books and the Readers to gather and speak face-to-face.

Held Oct. 24, 2012, the Human Library at GCC was a collaborative project between faculty and staff designed to promote interpersonal dialogue, reduce prejudice and encourage understanding. Readers (students) checked Books (community members) out of the Library for 30-minute, face-to-face sessions. For the most part, Books embody their experiences of prejudice, bias and bigotry, and they agree to tell their stories to Readers.

The Human Library concept originated in Denmark in 2000 and since then its global appeal has spread all over the world. Often held at public libraries, some with permanent installations, the concept has been duplicated thousands of times in various settings and venues, but never before at a Maricopa Community College.

The GCC Human Library targeted three specific learning priorities: to enrich public life and public discourse on campus and in learning communities; to promote a safe educational exploration of prejudices, stereotypes and cultural diversity in union with course curriculum; and to advance students’ understanding of how they can think more critically about these issues while advocating greater civic engagement in county and state democratic processes.

The Human Library focused on community issues and required students to evaluate and analyze those issues in a civil manner. Also, because it used democratic process and well-established rules, students learned a lively way to have equitable and active discussions. Finally these infused curriculum techniques taught students how to examine their own ethical frames and decision-making, and made them accountable in a public, yet safe, forum.

The second Human Library at GCC is planned for October 2013.

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