May ’18 Newsletter: The Human Library

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The idea is simple: everybody has a story to share. Project co-leads Amy McMillen and Alicia Wang were abroad in Copenhagen when they heard about the international organization, The Human Library. “It was such a simple yet beautiful concept, we decided to bring it back to Charlottesville,” says Amy.

The Human Library at UVA is a project that enables students, faculty, and staff at the University of Virginia to verbally share their stories and engage with other community members willing to learn. Each participant is either a “reader” who will stop by to listen to a story, or a “book” who is an individual with a story they would like to share. The project has spotlighted issues that are traditionally difficult to grapple with, such as mental disorders and immigration. But the Library also lets students share unique parts of their identity through constructive dialogues and Q&A exchanges. The sheer variety of stories shared through the Human Library has led the project to immense success with their past events, including their most recent on April 6th. This event was a chance for students to hear from their peers on topics like picking a non-traditional path in the healthcare industry, overcoming breast cancer, and dealing with deafness.

We asked Amy what her goals are for the future of this project. “My hope for the Human Library is for people to continue to have the courage to tell their stories as well as listen to others who are different than themselves,” she says. The Human Library is meant to extend beyond just UVA’s Grounds to touch others in the Charlottesville community. “An overarching goal for the project is to help connect the University and the surrounding Charlottesville area, as we have so much to learn from each other. In the future, I hope that the Human Library continues to partner with the community and elevate people’s stories that otherwise may not be recognized or understood.”

Reflecting on the concept of The Human Library, Amy shares her own story with the Trust. “If I were to be a book for the Human Library, my title would be In Between. Ever since I was born to an American father and a Chinese mother, I have been a bridge between two cultures and have learned how to balance opposite entities. When I was ten years old, I went from living a highly privileged lifestyle in China to moving to the Land of Opportunity and cleaning houses with my family every weekend to keep food on the table.” Stories such as Amy’s demonstrate how narrative storytelling can build empathy and break barriers between people, making for genuine conversation and powerful dialogue that breaks through surface-level chatter.

The Jefferson Trust is excited to support such a meaningful, student-led initiative, and we look forward to continued success from The Human Library at UVA. Check them out on Facebook.