Penn State

‘Human books’ to bring Penn State library to life

Alia Gant, who recognizes herself as a “plus-size” woman, plans to use her struggle with body image to address society’s views on appearance and to connect with participants through her story, “BBW Biased: A Tale of a Plus-Sized Woman in Modern Society.” Penn State will open up its first “Human Library” on Wednesday, where participants will be able to “borrow books” by listening to people’s experiences.
Alia Gant, who recognizes herself as a “plus-size” woman, plans to use her struggle with body image to address society’s views on appearance and to connect with participants through her story, “BBW Biased: A Tale of a Plus-Sized Woman in Modern Society.” Penn State will open up its first “Human Library” on Wednesday, where participants will be able to “borrow books” by listening to people’s experiences. psheehan@centredaily.com

Penn State’s main library will offer 13 new “books” for students to “borrow” on Wednesday. The “books” won’t have pages to read, however, but rather voices to listen to.

The voices will be those of 13 faculty members, staff and students of diverse backgrounds, who will talk about their lives and experiences and answer questions from their “borrowers.” They are Penn State’s first “Human Library.”

“We are hoping that people will come, and they will see us in a different point of view — something different from their own lives — and that they will be able to recognize that other people have had barriers and we all have our own stories,” said Megan Gilpin, the library’s outreach coordinator.

The original Human Library took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000, Gilpin said, as a project to foster social change and create a safe space for conversations. She said the event is now in approximately 70 countries.

Gilpin learned of the idea at a conference last year and formed a committee to plan the event.

Fawn Patchell, a data analyst, will present “Native American Woman.” It will focus on her upbringing on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and her “eye-opening” experience assimilating into the larger society at age 18. She has White Mountain Apache, Pima and Choctaw tribal ancestry.

She asked that participants come with an open mind, and said she welcomes questions because there are still many misconceptions about the culture. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she said

Niharika Sharma’s story, entitled “From India to Iowa: Reflections of My Journey,” will be about moving to a new country after her marriage and what she has learned, she said. Ames, Iowa, was Sharma’s first stop in the U.S. in 2003. She moved to State College in 2006.

“If nothing else, I want (participants) to take away a little understanding about diversity and inclusion — not just about my life but about adapting to change and accepting it in their lives,” said Sharma, who works in student financial services.

Alia Gant recognizes herself as a “plus-size” woman and said she will use her struggle with body image to address society’s views on appearance and to connect with participants through her story, “BBW Biased: A Tale of a Plus-Sized Woman in Modern Society.”

Gant, a diversity resident librarian, said she will share stories about her childhood, including moments of triumph as well as bad times. She said people can be “fat-shamed,” but there has also been a movement of empowerment, not only by those affected but also by supporters.

Gilpin said anyone is welcome to “check out” a book on between 1 and 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Each session lasts 45 minutes, including time for questions and discussion.

A panel discussion will be held at 7 p.m. in Foster Auditorium, with questions from the audience, she said. The discussion will include the “books” that appeared to be most popular as judged by attendance.

Those interested can sign up for a session in advance on tinyurl.com/human-psulibs, but drop-ins are welcome, Gilpin said. There are 200 available slots, she said.

“A lot of times we surround ourselves with people who are very similar to us,” Gilpin said, “and it’s good to go and talk to people and learn about their perspective and what their life has been like.”

Aubree Rader is a Penn State journalism student.

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