What's happening at northeast Indiana's first Human Library?

Northeast Indiana is a diverse place, home to people of many backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures.

But have you wondered what local life is like from someone else’s perspective?

Now you can find out at the Human Library - Fort Wayne.

The first annual event will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on August 4th at the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne. It's free, and the concept is simple.

Like a regular library, the Human Library gives “readers” a chance to learn about other people’s experiences. But instead of renting books, you “rent” people for conversations.

The people “on loan” are called “books,” and the event’s volunteers are called “librarians.”

Two local women, Ellen Sauer and Nicole King, organized the event this year after hearing about it happening in other cities.

The Human Library started in Denmark in 2000 with the mission of building a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

Sauer and King saw the opportunity to start similar conversations here.

“We both have this love for bringing more diversity to our community and appreciating the different parts of our community,” Sauer says.

Since the nonprofit team of two formed in the Spring of 2017, they have been hard at work, gathering community members to serve as “librarians” and “books” at the event.

This year, they will have more than 30 human “books” for "readers" to explore in one-on-one conversations and panel discussions. There will also be a licensed counselor at the event ready to help “readers” process their experiences.

The “books” are all members of the northeast Indiana community who have expressed a desire to share their stories. They include: a Muslim woman, a DACA dreamer, several international immigrants, a first-generation Mexican American, recovering alcohol and drug addicts, victims of racism, a former homeless man, a gay teen whose parents sent him to conversion therapy, an HIV positive person, a woman who is borderline bipolar, a rape survivor, a black woman who grew up in poverty, a woman who’s autistic, a suicide survivor, and a man who was on death row for a crime he didn’t commit—just to name a few.

“We’re getting the real truth of what our community looks like as opposed to the fiction,” King says. “Our tagline is ‘Opening the pages of your community,’ and we want our community to see that there are many faces that make up Fort Wayne.”

King explains that unlike most Human Libraries around the world, the Fort Wayne event will have a special focus on reaching youth in the community, which is a personal passion of hers.

“I didn’t have the best childhood growing up, so I’m always interested in improving the circumstances and knowledge of our youth,” she says. “In my experience, kids know a lot more than people give them credit for.”

Since younger members of the audience might not be as comfortable asking questions directly to the “books,” King and Sauer have put together five group panels throughout the day to stimulate discussion.

The panels will feature: a transgender teen; different types of couples in long-term relationships; women in politics; mental health, Asperger’s, and autism; and the black male experience.

While King and Sauer believe that everyone who attends the event will have unique takeaways based on their personal backgrounds, they hope that “readers” see and appreciate the range of human experience right here.

“I just want our community to feel a little smaller and more aware of who ‘the other’ is,” Sauer says.

“And to get away from the ‘us and them’ mentality,” King adds. “I want people to see more human beings than anything else—and to connect with each other as fellow humans.”


Get involved

The Human Library is still looking for volunteers and donations.

Along with “librarians” to help out on the day of the event, Sauer says they’re looking for funds to provide t-shirts and lunches for the volunteers.

She says everything the team purchases will be local to keep the dollars in northeast Indiana.

To volunteer, visit: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/60b044caaaa29a0fc1-human

To donate, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/human-library-fort-wayne

To attend, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/162569231084928/

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara is a Fort Wayne native, passionate about her hometown and its ongoing revival. As Managing Editor of Input Fort Wayne, she enjoys writing about interesting people and ideas in northeast Indiana. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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