Experiencing Reading From the Human Library

Sam Shepard and Isabella Chan

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Members of Central Connecticut community came together at Elihu Burritt Library’s Second Annual Human Library. “Readers” gathered to hear the stories and experiences of the human “books” on display.

“The Human Library is an event where people have one-on-one conversations with each other or have conversations in small groups where they share their personal experiences and expertise,” Susan Slaga-Metivier, organizer for the Human Library, said.

Originally, the idea came from Denmark in 2000, in which it was intended to challenge prejudices while encouraging dialogue, which would help to build relationships in the process. Elihu Burritt Library used it as an opportunity to encourage the exchange of ideas in a safe setting.

“It’s supposed to combat prejudice and stereotypes and that type of thing. But sometimes it might be someone sharing information [about] a career or a religion. I do try to reach out to different people on campus students or faculty,” Slaga-Metivier said.

The collection of “books” were volunteers who shared their stories on various topics. This year’s collection was a diverse group of individuals who opened up about their life experiences with immigration, religion, career experiences and more.

Central Connecticut professor Karen Ritzenhoff’s story focused on her experiences being an immigrant and raising her children in America.

“I grew up in Germany and moved to the United States at which point I became kind of conflicted,” Ritzenhoff shared.

Even after becoming a United States citizen Ritzenhoff retained Dual Citizenship in Germany. Her experience growing up in Germany and living in the US influenced how she raised her children.

“I never let them join the Boy Scouts because I didn’t want my sons to waddle around in uniforms that reminded me of the Hitler Youth or we would never raise the German flag. I don’t go to parades because it eerily reminds me of this World War Two past,” Ritzenhoff said. “But what I’ve found is that my children praise Germany and love it.”

Along with Ritzenhoff was Stephen Hard, who was one of 600 Carthusian Monks for almost a decade. He shares how his religious experience was vastly different than most.

“I didn’t so much choose to become a monk, it was more of a matter of discernment; that’s where God wanted me. What’s interesting about Catholic Seminaries is that they are very monastic in terms of the way they are structured,” Hard stated.

After being ordained, Hard realized life as a priest did not sit well with him.

“What happened over the course of the next several years is that I came to the realization that I was not cut out for pastoral life. I really didn’t like it. It was agony,” Hard admitted.

After leaving his pastoral life behind, Hard was amongst the ranks of one of 23 fellow Carthusian Monks for seven years in Vermont.

The Human Library is a living breathing story sharing experience. True to its goals, it provided a forum to enlighten participants to different life experiences. For more information about the Human Library, please contact Susan Slaga-Metivier or go to Human Library website.