FARMINGTON — Everyone has a story to tell.

Many of those stories are found in volumes on library shelves but for two days, patrons of Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington could check out a human book and hear the tale directly from the person experiencing it.

The human library project was designed to begin conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue, Vaughan Gagne, manager of administrative services at the library, said.

The Human Library, an international program started in Denmark, encourages patrons to check out a human book. This event provided a 30-minute period to hear and ask questions on a variety of subjects including some considered socially sensitive.

Over 25 faculty, students and community members agreed to make themselves and their stories available Thursday and Friday, she said. It was part of Mantor Library’s “On Our Minds” reading program and this year’s theme, “Your Story Matters.” 

A catalog of topics offered a variety of tales from a merchant marine captain to what it’s like to be a missionary, a refugee, a person living with post traumatic stress disorder or one with Asperger Syndrome.

Living with mental illness, as a transgender person or as an incest survivor, the human book was open to questions and sharing their story.

As one human book described it, “I’ll tell you about my ‘invisible disabilities’ and how they affected my life. I’ll try to help you, the ‘reader’ see the importance of not ‘judging a book by its cover.'”

To tell about the event was to choose to experience it.

Greeted in the lobby by human librarian Sarah Otley, the catalog listings and descriptions relayed too many interesting tales.

With a little help from event organizers, Gagne and Kelly Boivin, the choice was made to check out the human book, “Standing on the Cliff Between Two Cultures.”

Led to a library room filled with a number of human books, one young student told her story of falling in love with a man from Somalia and her choice to become a hijabi woman living here on the UMF campus.

Leaving her upbringing in a Christian family, she spoke of researching, learning about and falling in love with her new faith.

Her devotion to her God, her belief in performing acts of charity and kindness to help people and improve someone’s life created a better understanding despite the differences of religion.

The gap between reader and book narrowed as she answered questions and revealed the similarities of just being human.

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