TMC6 St Aubyn

The Human Library at the Louise Arbour Secondary School Library Learning Commons

By Jonelle St. Aubyn

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This paper provides a fine resource for others to use in organizing a Human Library event in their school. The teacher-librarian of a secondary school researched and organized a Human Library event where volunteers from the community engaged in small groups with teens about various aspects of the volunteer, or “human book’s”, life including vocation, challenges, accomplishments. Survey responses following the event indicate a high degree of the event’s success from both students and community volunteers.




Jonelle St. Aubyn
started her teaching career with the Peel District School Board as a Health and Physical Education and Family Studies teacher at T.L. Kennedy Secondary School in 2002.  Jonelle opened Louise Arbour Secondary School in 2010 at the Head of Physical Education and transitioned to the library learning commons in 2015. Since then she has been the full-time lead teacher-librarian at Louise Arbour and excited to be celebrating her fifth year in this role.

11 comments:

  1. Jonelle, as always, you continue to inspire me with your openness, intentional practice and attention to detail. Like you, I have had the creation of a Human Library on my LLC To Do list since we opened Castle Oaks in 2015. Your detailed summary of the steps you took and the careful consideration and decision-making that went into each aspect of the learning experience is just the push I need to take a leap of faith in my own practice.

    Your consistent referencing of the guests a human books and the importance of student choice and voice were very powerful. I was particularly struck by the following:

    “Giving them choice was important to us,as in a regular library patrons choose what they want to read about, they are not forced to learn about things that they don’t want to.”

    This respect for your learners and their interests is essential to creating a collaborative and participatory learning culture.

    Thank you for sharing your technology-based solution when one of your human books was no longer able to attend in person. This is just a small example of your flexibility and willingness to break down potential barriers for students’ learning experiences.

    “One of our participants had an emergency at work and could not physically attend the event so we set up Chromebooks and headphones at a table and set up a Google Meet to allow the students to see her and type questions in the chat.”

    Your documentation of the incredible work of your library team will help others, both secondary and elementary, to see their own LLCs reach their fullest potential for creating innovative and student centred learning opportunities.

    Thank you again,
    Jenn Brown

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    1. Having a bit of a last minute crisis forced us to find a method that would still allow us to keep her as a participant was actually a blessing in disguise. We had never run a Google Meet before so it motivated us to try it. Sometimes things can go wrong but still turn out right.

      Student choice was very important to me. I always learned the best at high school and university, when I had the opportunity to choose what I wanted to learn about. Our students were thoughtful in their selections and often neglected asking questions just because they wanted to hear the stories of the books. The questions they did ask were very thoughtful and respectful.

      I am more than happy to work with anyone who is thinking of running this at their school and I would appreciate feedback and discuss ideas about ways to improve.

      Thank you for your interest in the Human Library!

      Warm regards,
      Jonelle

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  2. Hi Jonelle,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with creating a Human Library event. Although I had heard of it prior to reading this paper, I was unaware that it began in 2000.

    I know that TMC6 stated that the papers could be sorted almost anywhere because themes overlapped. I believe that Culturally Relevant and Responsive SLLCs should consider having a Human Library because of its ability to fight bigotry - it's much harder to hate a group when you've never had a chance to talk with an individual from that group.

    Thank goodness you are so well-connected! It sounds like it was through the power of your networking that you were able to obtain such varied and interesting Human Books. You mentioned that the students said they'd love to talk to a solider or a doctor next time you host a Human Library event. Who would *you* like to have as a Human Book that you haven't yet had? Which was the most popular Human Book from your initial event?

    Finally, what advice would you give if such an event were to occur in an elementary school?

    Thanks again,
    Diana M

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    1. Hi Diana,

      In all honesty, there are so many people that I would have loved to have had at our Human Library to assist in breaking down stereotypes. A drag queen, someone living with HIV, elders from Indigenous communities and more. Our goal going forward is to forge more connections with community groups and local organizations. As you said, I was very fortunate to have friends and family members that I could call on to help us try this for the first time, but for this to be practical to continue to do on an ongoing basis, we need our Human Books to be local.

      The most popular book was our NPU Police Officers!

      If this were to occur in an elementary school, I would spend time preparing the students more for the Human Books that would be coming. I only gave our students a short bio of each of the Human Books, but for younger children, I would have more explanation of who the books were and why they were invited. We had 60 students in each of the periods but I would only have one class at a time for elementary students to allow for smaller groups with the books and ensure that they had questions prepped before the event.

      Thank you for these questions about the Human Library. I can't wait to do it again!

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  3. Hi Jonelle
    Thanks for sharing your experience with hosting a human library at your school. The high school where I taught last has held several successful human libraries. The success of the first event led to several others including ones held for teachers and school administrators. I will be leading a human library with school clinicians when I get back from TMC.

    At the high school level, I think it's important to leave as much planning as possible up to the students. It's such an authentic learning experience if they choose the theme, find the "books," contact the books, create the schedule and host the luncheon. One of our groups even contacted the media because they were so fired up about their topic.

    It's difficult to know whether to run the human library as a mandatory event or not. I've done both and they have both been successful. I have found that if it's mandatory, if the book is interesting enough (and I haven't found one yet that isn't), the students are quickly engaged. You might consider having the students create a set of talking points for when the conversation lags.

    Good luck hosting another human library in the future. I think they are amazing ways for our students to learn about people they do not normally come in contact with. Being able to listen is an important literacy to learn!

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne,

      I just met with the leadership class teachers about what you recommended! They really wanted to have the students in the class make the connections with local organizations to select some of the Human Books. Ideally, it would be wonderful if it was eventually completely student run.

      My concern would be is that they may not choose some Books that it would be beneficial for some of the students to connect with. For example, we had our LGBTQ equity resource teacher there as a Human Book. I'm not sure if the students would have included someone from that community if they were left to make that decision on their own. And it was important that she was there. It's something that we will be taking into consideration as we move forward and evolve.

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  4. Thank you for your story of practice! We all learn from others' experiences. I wish I had done this when I worked as a high school teacher-librarian. Amazing!

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    1. Hi Dianne,

      It was a lot of fun and a wonderful learning experience for the students, teachers and the Human Books. I was so pleased at how positive the Human Books were about the experience. As we move forward, we hope to expand our "collection" of Human Books and make more local connections within our community.

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  5. Hi Jonelle, I really appreciate how delicately handled choosing human books and had the courage to keep going by tapping shoulders to build your human library. I would like to know more about your timelines for the project and also the floor plan for the event. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Alanna,

      We started the search for the Human Books in May! My goal originally was to have 10 Human Books, but we were fortunate to get to 12. I had everyone confirmed by the end of September. Once all the books were confirmed, I sent them an email to determine their dietary restrictions in early October. The classes were chosen two weeks before the event and I visited each of the classes to explain what a Human Library was, to answer questions, and to have them sign up for the books they wished to spend time with. A week before the event, the library team produced the lanyards and had them printed and ready to go. We have a hospitality department at our school so they didn't need much time to plan a menu for the luncheon based on everyone's needs. Three days before the event, I printed all of the signs with the participants names on it and wrapped the small gifts that everyone received. We did all of the decorating for the luncheon the day before the event.

      Our library has a main space and a seminar room. We had ten of the participants spread out throughout the library on our couches, and at the desks with chairs. The other two participants were in the seminar room (which we just split in half). If I were to do this again, I would keep everyone in the main space because those in the seminar room felt a little isolated from the rest of the group and would have preferred to have been with everyone else. None of the Human Books had any issue with it being too loud in the main space (which is something we were worried about). I will have pictures of the event during my presentation so you can have a better idea of what it looked like.

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  6. Jonelle,
    I loved reading your paper and learning from your experience of hosting a Human Library in your space. It’s made me wonder what this might look like with elementary students and how we might organize a human library. Thanks so much for sharing and I look forward to connecting further.

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