The Growing Human Library

Niko Tamurian, '05, Sports Director at the stations of CNY Central, was the human book "sportscaster" at OCC's 2015 Human Library.
Niko Tamurian, ’05, Sports Director at the stations of CNY Central, was the human book “sportscaster” at OCC’s 2015 Human Library.

The concept of a “human library” didn’t start on the OCC campus, but it did become so popular here it is now the focus of a study being led by Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, or “iSchool” as it is more commonly referred to. “We’re really excited to be a part of this,” said Pauline Lynch Shostack, Chair of OCC’s Coulter Library. “We hope it will lead to more of these kinds of events.”

OCC Business Administration department chair J.T. Ryan (left) discussed his days with Mid-Lakes Navigation as the book "Canal Boat Captain."
OCC Professor J.T. Ryan (left) discussed his days with Mid-Lakes Navigation as the book “Canal Boat Captain.”

The human library provides students the unique opportunity to ask “books” questions. Experts from the campus and the community play the role of books, sharing their personal stories with students in one-on-one or small group settings. For example, at the 2015 human library event OCC Faculty Chair J.T. Ryan was the book “Canal Boat Captain.” He told students stories about his days as a boat captain for Mid-Lakes Navigation.

Shostack first heard of a human library one night several years ago when she was scrolling through her Twitter feed. A college in western Massachusetts was tweeting about an event with human books. “I read the article and thought, ‘This would be a great library event!’ I followed the link in the story, found there was a human library organization in Denmark and kept reading more and more about it.”

Shostack and now retired librarian Angela Weiler began working on the concept and brought it to life at Coulter Library in 2013. “We did the first one and I said, ‘This is a wonderful way for community members to connect in a unique way!’ We should share it with local and regional libraries.” She contacted the Central New York Regional Library Council to organize a meeting with local and regional libraries. When Coulter hosted the human library one year later Syracuse University participated along with Tompkins Cortland Community College and some local public libraries.

Pauline Lynch Shostack, Chair of OCC's Coulter Library
Pauline Lynch Shostack, Chair of OCC’s Coulter Library

In 2015 Coulter hosted the third edition of the human library. It was bigger and better than ever with more human books, more diversity and more students participating. In one room there was Professor Christine Braunberger, who had actually written a book on tattoos, playing the role of a human book discussing tattoos. Several media personalities participated and played the role of books which mirrored their careers including CNY Sportcaster and OCC Alumnus Niko Tamurian, WSYR TV Meteorologist Jim Teske and 93Q radio personality Amy Robbins. Once again the event was a huge success.

The human library is now the focus of a three-year project funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services which is part of the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program. Three faculty members from Syracuse University’s iSchool are partnering with Coulter Library and the Fayetteville Free Library to learn how to identify, catalog and electronically promote the human expertise available in their local communities. All of the information will be available for the public in a new Community Profile System app which the iSchool will develop.

This new app will give human library planners a foundation to work with. It will also give users a database of experts who can be utilized year round. “This will be an ongoing resource for us. Let’s say you are a student and you are putting together a paper on the Erie Canal. You would search the database, learn that one of our faculty members used to be a boat captain and you may be able to use him as a resource for your class work.”

OCC did not host a human library event this year because of the ongoing renovations in Coulter. The event will return in the spring 2017 semester when the work is complete and Coulter will be the test site for the app. “It’s very exciting to see how far this whole project has come and where it’s going,” said Shostack. “After doing this event for three years we realize what amazing expertise we have on our campus. This technology will help connect the campus community in ways they’re not usually connected.”

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