Human Books Tell Their Stories

Everyone has a story to tell. On Friday, January 12 the Pawling Public Library and the Pawling Central School District hosted the second annual Pawling Human Library. The event saw more than 40 volunteers become human books to share their stories and life experiences with visitors, or readers. Held at Pawling Middle School, the afternoon vent proved to be both entertaining and informative and will hopefully cement the Human Library as an entertaining educational tradition in Pawling.

The human books who participated in the event represented a diverse cross section of the community and included members of the PCSD Board of Education, students, parents, administrators, and both instructional and non-instructional staff members. In addition, event organizers were also assisted by a team of students from throughout the district who helped visitors navigate the hallways.

The project’s goal was to enhance the strong ties between the schools and the community, as well as to assist educators in designing authentic learning opportunities for students by sharing a wide range of human experiences. “The Pawling Human Library demonstrates the value the community places on learning and the diversity and depth of our collective expertise,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Kim Fontana. “We are fortunate to be able to educate our children in this community in this way.” The 2018 Human Library represented the first time that the event was open to the public; it also afforded the human books an opportunity to serve as readers themselves. Typically each book would make his or her presentation in twenty-minute sessions, often engaging in discussion and question-and-answer sessions with their readers.

The event covered a wide array of subject matter, ensuring that every reader could find many areas of interest. Among the books featured were the former technical director of Consumer Reports Labs, a researcher of adolescent psychology, the executive director of the Pawling Resource Center, and an accomplished author of more than thirty publications. Other books shared personal stories, including tales of a solo bike journey across the French countryside, hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, traveling the world while working on yachts, and a story of how a group of citizens challenged the New York State Housing Authority with a rent strike. Readers also flocked to books for discussions on the country’s opioid crisis, scientific research methods, clowning, graphic design, photography, parenting, and the power of positive thinking.

The reception from the visiting readers was overwhelmingly positive. The afternoon also included appearances by Congressman John Faso and State Senator Terrence Murphy. “We are so pleased with how the Pawing Human Library Project went this year,” said the Director of Pawling Library, Brian Avery. “Not only did we have a diverse group of wonderful volunteers, but the conversations they fostered were as meaningful to the books as they were to the readers. It was inspiring to witness the connections being forged between different members of the community who might otherwise never have crossed paths.” Usually held at larger libraries or universities, the event appears to have found a home in Pawling. The project has even been officially recognized by the international Human Library Organization in Denmark and will no doubt help to further the district’s goal of strengthening the connection between educators and the community. “On behalf of the Pawling Schools, I would like to thank every participant for their willingness to learn and to share,” said Kim Fontana.