Reading from a book of life

The ACU Human Library project team has been recognised with the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Mission Excellence.

The team, comprised of Senior Library Coordinator Kelly Dann, Library Technician Karen Desfontaines, Senior Library Technician Emma Buntowe, Counsellor Maria Valastro, Clemente Australia Program Advisor Janine Quine, Student Veterans Services Manager Aaron Cornwall and Senior Lecturer (Bioscience) Dr Isabelle Lys, received the award in recognition of their effort to bring the ACU mission to life and create impact through empathy.

Breaking down barriers and building connections

The Human Library is an effort to use human connection, dialogue and the art of storytelling to break down barriers and connect people who might otherwise never cross paths.

In the Human Library, people, instead of books, are on loan to readers, providing an opportunity for individuals from different backgrounds to connect, talk with and learn from each other in a safe environment. By having a conversation with a real person, readers are better able to empathise with and understand the life experiences of others, helping them to challenge and confront their own long-held assumptions and prejudices.

Kelly said the impetus for the event was a conversation amongst the team about how they could address the amount of misunderstanding in the world.

“We thought this project would be a great way to break down some of the barriers that exist in our society.”

A safe space for dialogue

With the advice and support of an advisory group of academic and professional staff, the project team of library staff recruited, trained, and supported 16 Human Books for the inaugural event at our Brisbane Campus in September 2021.

The volunteers recruited were people from all walks of life who had faced stigma or had been misunderstood or stereotyped based on their ethnicity, religion, mental health status, disability, sexual orientation, age, profession, lifestyle, and economic status.

Karen said that the project was a really good way to start a conversation.

“The best part of being in the library is interacting with students and patrons at the desk. This was a project which provided a safe space for dialogue, diversity and to challenge stereotypes.”

Kelly said that the team achieved what they set out to.

“It was about providing a platform where we could give a voice to marginalised people or groups who are discriminated against. All our Human Books were heavily ‘read’ on the day by lots of students and staff, so we very much feel that we achieved this,” Kelly said.

“I wanted to read every single Human Book because they all had something really interesting to share, but they were all booked out. It’s such a great learning opportunity for everyone,” Karen said.

An unforgettable ‘team’

The Human Library project team thanked the many people who made this an unforgettable and very special event: the ‘readers’ who embraced the experience, the volunteer ‘student librarians’ from Earnshaw State College who assisted on the day, the advisory committee of ACU staff who provided advice and assisted with recruitment and, of course, the 16 Human Books who generously donated their time and bravely shared their personal stories, and without whom this would not have been possible. The team would also like to acknowledge project mate Philippa Mangano, who is no longer with ACU, for her many contributions.

The event at ACU was featured in The Australian newspaper and on prime-time television on Network Ten’s The Project, providing national exposure for the Human Library concept. The project team has since shared resources, learnings and contacts with Brisbane City Council, St John’s Anglican College and TAFE Queensland in preparation for their own Human Libraries.

ACU Library is looking forward to hosting this event again, with the next event planned for April 2023 at Brisbane and Blacktown.

More information about the ACU Human Library

 Woman with blonde shoulder length hair and glasses in black and white dress holds a certificate and plaque with a man in a dark suit and glasses beside her
Kelly Dann with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis

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