Northwood University "Human Library"

Northwood University is offering a unique opportunity to tell your story this spring.
The third annual ‘Human Library’ event returns to Northwood’s Strosacker Library and Learning Commons on Tuesday, April 5 from 4 to 7 p.m. Rochelle Zimmerman, director of library services at Northwood University, says the program is part of a national effort, designed to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes. 
Rochelle Zimmerman is the director of library services at Northwood University.
“The idea comes from Copenhagen, Denmark,” she says. “It’s a concept built around a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudice through dialogue. Instead of coming to the library to check out a book, you check out a person and the person [acts] as a book.”

Attendees will check in, and be given brief bios on each of the storytellers/human books. Guests move to the different tables, to hear the different stories from the human books.

“We brought it to the university for the benefit of our students to bridge some stereotypes,” Zimmerman says. “It’s a safe zone, you can feel comfortable, you can ask questions that you typically wouldn’t.”

Those interested in being ‘human books’ can fill out a form online to sign up to tell their story. It’s available to the entire community. Zimmerman says storytellers could be a Vietnam veteran, a person recovering from anorexia, someone with Aspergers syndrome, or persons who identify as bisexual, or practice different religions. Anyone with a story that  can promote tolerance, celebrate differences, and encourage understanding between people with different lifestyles or cultural backgrounds is welcome to apply online by March 1. 

The event originally started in April 2019, and had about 15-20 people in attendance, according to Zimmerman. Last year, due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually. This year, the event returns to an in-person setting. “We try to keep it smaller, because of the noise issue,” Zimmerman says. “We’ve had 8-10 books before, but we’re shooting for 6-8 books this year.”
We brought it to the university for the benefit of our students to bridge some stereotypes.
Typically, about 2-3 people are placed at a table to hear one book’s story. They’re given a list of questions they can ask the book upon check-in.  Zimmerman says counselors are on site, reiterating that the event is a judgment-free, safe zone. “If they’re discussing something uncomfortable, and they need a break, they can come to us,” she says. “Sometimes, it evokes emotion from repeatedly telling your story over & over again, so counselors are there.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at