Students, faculty and staff were able to check out more than just books Wednesday at the University of Lynchburg’s library.

They were able to check out people, too.

The library — in conjunction with the University of Lynchburg Office of Equity and Inclusion — hosted a human library, an event where people served as the books, and reading was the conversations the “books” had with people.

For about 15 minutes, students, faculty and staff were able to learn about others’ life stories, perspectives and experiences with prejudice and stereotypes with the goal of creating awareness and understanding.

“I think having a visible event on campus where we celebrate difference and the unique people in our community just kind of gives a voice to people who feel they’re not always seen or heard,” said Haley Lott, the outreach and public services librarian.

Lott said starting in 2016, the University of Lynchburg pushed to do more with diversity and inclusion on the campus, and since then, library staff has been brainstorming ways for the library to participate. The answer: a human library.

By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 30 readers had checked out “books” and learned a little bit more about the different types of people walking around campus every day.

Book titles included “Going with the Flow,” “Blind but Normal,” “Brother, Student, Son,” “Dating Someone with Aspergers” and other books that addressed race, gender, sexuality and abilities.

“Even if there’s a group that’s not represented in the books we have, I think it shows everybody on campus has a story. It might be different from yours, and that’s OK. It’s OK to talk about these things. We should be doing that. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow,” Lott said.

Senior Veronika Williams titled her book “Going with the Flow” because “that’s kind of how my life goes” where she’s always on “a straight and narrow path and all of a sudden there’s a detour.”

Williams’ title sparked an interest for junior Christa Walker, 20, because she felt the title “was tailored” to her.

“I consider myself to go with the flow, and I’ve also had some issues with going with the flow. Hearing Veronika’s story about it and asking her questions about it made me gain more clarity on the topic of going with the flow,” Walker said. “It was relieving for me to be comforted by whatever Veronika was telling me. It was that extra push I didn’t even know I needed until I walked out of that room.”

For Jenny Horton, the director of the library, checking out a book on a person who shared a story about being biracial but not having the physical traits of both races and the assumptions that are made because of it was an emotional experience.

“She talked about how she had been discriminated against, and I’ve not had those experiences. I felt sad that she had to have those experiences,” Horton said. “I was thankful for the opportunity because I grew up in a place that was very rural and very homogenous so we didn’t have a lot of cultures or people that were different than us.”

The human library not only provided an opportunity for readers to be exposed to different life experiences, but also an opportunity for books to share their stories and possibly find people with similar stories.

Graduate student Christopher Betterton, 23, who served as a book, said as a male, there’s a stereotype that men shouldn’t share their feelings, especially when feeling weak or insecure, but the human library is an intimate, open setting where people can “let the emotions fly.”

“There have been times where there are platforms on campus [for people] to talk about their opinions about things, their thoughts and how they view things but all of those are enforced by feelings. This is the only time I’ve seen where it’s OK to be weak and vulnerable, sharing your feelings and just being OK with being emotional for the 15 minutes we’re talking to people,” Betterton said.

Junior Sasha Terry, 20, also served as a book but was uneasy about participating at first because she’s “just not good at talking to people, especially about personal stuff,” but she realized she could make a difference in someone’s life.

“I realized I have to step out and try to get out of my comfort zone. I also realized what I say can be life changing for someone else. I don’t want to let my fears get in the way of helping someone else get through a struggle or something else they’re going through,” Terry said.

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Liz Ramos covers K-12 education for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.

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