Check This Out: The Human Library

The ubiquitous “they” always tell us not to judge a book by its cover, hence the debut version of NDSU’s Human Library.

The first human library originated in the spring of 2000 in Copenhagen, as a way to focus on anti-violence, encourage dialogue and help build positive relationships among festivalgoers at Roskilde Festival, the largest of northern Europe’s summer festivals. Since then, human libraries have sprung up in more than 70 countries.

RIO BERGH | THE SPECTRUM | “Readers” at the Human Library had the opportunity to engage in conversations with the “books” and interact on a human level.

On Tuesday NDSU’s Human Library offered the opportunity to “read” a refugee, campus-parking official, Native American, international student, Muslim and sexual assault survivor, among others. Ten “books” participated, each discussing aspects of their identity and how it impacts facets of their lives.

The event consisted of 20-minute sessions, allowing participants to “check out” more than one person to gain a greater understanding of each person’s individual life.

We had the opportunity to sit in on a few of those conversations.

Despite what a certain opinion editor may have you think, the campus parking officials truly care about the students, faculty and staff. Heidi Berndt, a parking coordinator at NDSU, attended the human library event as a “book,” offering her expertise in the office to curious visitors.

From Berndt, people could ask questions about parking at NDSU, how the parking office operates and meet the face behind the permits issued at NDSU. Contrary to popular opinion, the NDSU parking office does not issue the citations, campus police does.

Also, you can get a student parking pass, good for any student lot, for only $25.

Michael J. Olsen, an active member of the F-M community as well as a sufferer of multiple sclerosis served as another “book” in the library. He spoke about the medical details of MS, the experience he’s had in his professional and personal life and what day-to-day life is like for a patient of MS. While the conversation eventually circled back to MS, Olsen was quick with a joke and information about his career.

Michael Yellow Bird, an NDSU professor in anthropology and sociology, shared his perspective on the colonization of Native cultures, and ways to help restore it.

We have a prime example in North Dakota with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yellow Bird discussed how representation of protestors as violent, or as an oppositional force to progress, results in a dominant narrative that isn’t necessarily accurate. “The question becomes how to get above the threshold of noise,” Yellow Bird said.

Colonizers usually build a narrative of progress, but colonization has its dark side, which Yellow Bird focuses on as a way of decolonizing perspectives.

“There are aspects of the narrative we don’t talk about,” Yellow Bird said. But doing so helps challenge dominant narratives, and expose the intricacies and beauty underneath.

Asif Arshid, a second year Ph.D. student in civil engineering, shared his perspective as a Muslim and native of Pakistan.

While he noted that some Muslims face discrimination in the U.S., Arshid feels like his experience has been good. “Compared to friends I’ve spoken to in other areas of the States, I feel like I am living in heaven here in Fargo,” Arshid said.

Arshid shared his experience on moving from Pakistan to the U.S. and also offered “readers” a global perspective on Islam as a social, political and economic system that people might not understand from the news. “When you are quiet, sometimes people might have assumptions, but when you start a conversation, barriers melt down,” Arshid said.

This was the first time NDSU Libraries hosted a Human Library, creating a safe space for open conversations with people who come from different backgrounds and experiences in life.

The “library” offered an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to engage with and learn from members of the community to get to know them on a deeper human level, instead of making assumptions based on identity.

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