LAGUNA, Philippines – It has become a common sight to see people spend more time staring at their phones than talking to their friends.
Launched in April 2019, the human library of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) hopes to keep readers more attuned to reality, especially in the digital age. With the Philippines topping in social media use worldwide for the 4th straight year, the human library is an effort to spark meaningful conversations instead of being engrossed with the use of cellular phones.
Dr. Mary Ann Ingua, College Librarian IV of the UPLB Main Library, said that social media can never capture what the other person in the virtual world truly feels in contrast to a face-to-face conversation.
“Even if we often say that the technology helps speed up our work, nothing can beat a human being that you can talk to and can empathize with your problems,” she added in a mix of English and Filipino.
A popular project adopted by over 80 countries, the human library operates the same as any library where books can be borrowed and read. (READ: [OPINION] In choosing a degree, consider Library and Information Science)
Instead of reading text from a book, people get to interact with a real person through casual conversations to discuss experiences and topics about a certain issue for an hour.
Its purpose is centered on the idea of building a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.
Creating a safe space
UPLB aims to provide a safer venue for asking questions and sharing stories in the university by challenging preconceived notions through the human library.
“We want to achieve meaningful conversation in a relaxed mode, wherein no one will judge you,” Dr. Ingua said.
In the UPLB article, Dr. Ingua added that the human library was implemented because of the increasing rate of mental health problems among students. It aims to create a social support group inside the campus that’s open to understanding individual differences and struggles. (READ: ‘A cry for help: Mental illness, suicide cases rising among youth)
It also aims to create a safe space for people to connect with others, break stigma and prejudices through meaningful discourse, promote understanding of culture and diversity, and bring a movement for social change.
UP’s human books feature stories of a person suffering from depression, a mother sharing her challenges and struggles, a wife who survived domestic violence, and people who have experienced prejudice and other stereotypes.
As of writing, UPLB Human Library’s catalog features 14 different titles.
Izabel Aruges (not her real name) of Whose Child Am I? shared her experience of being a human book.
“[Being a human book] is not a confession. It is really more of opening up and trusting [the readers] that whatever you talk about will only remain between you…With [human library], I can connect better with other people,” she explained.
For human book reader and UPLB student Jyra Gaviola, being able to listen to the story of Izabel Aruges gave her the opportunity to look at things differently.
“I get [to realize] the perspective of others. Makakatulong iyon sa akin para magrow pa ako as a person kasi hindi ako nakukulong sa sarili ko lang na experience. (It helps me grow as a person because I’m no longer caged in my own experience),”Gaviola added.
Human book Little Thao talked about the diversity of Muslims and debunked stereotypes of how Mindanao and its people are portrayed and seen. (READ: Seeds of insurgency: The youth of Marawi)
“Gusto ko i-share ‘yung culture namin sa Mindanao, na everyone is well-respected despite their religion or cultural background (I want to share our culture in Mindanao. That everyone is respected despite their religion or cultural backround),” Little Thao said.
Another human book Anne Sayatee tackled what people with major depressive disorder experience through a feature titled Keep It Together. (READ: Is the Philippines ready to address mental health?)
Meanwhile, human book Chidori behind the title Keep Moving Forward discussed about how he managed to overcome his grief and how he was healed after losing someone precious in his life.
The human books are kept anonymous to protect their identity. Readers, on the other hand, must sign a confidentiality agreement since the project is protected by the Data Privacy Act.
More human book titles are expected to be available in the coming weeks, as university library is also looking for interested human book volunteers.
Interested readers can reserve any human book through their website or they can visit the UPLB Main Library. – Rappler.com
Rosemarie A. De Castro is a Rappler mover from Libmanan, Camarines Sur. She is also a Development Communication student at the University of the Philippines Los Banos.