By Melissa Eelman, Staff Writer 

Anyone who walked into the library on April 7 and 8 knew that something was different.  The normally empty area near the circulation desk contained a table with information and a whiteboard with book titles written in colorful marker.  Contrary to the gloomy day outside, the library was buzzing with excitement. A few students stood around the table requesting to  “check out” a human book. On the mezzanine, students and community members sat on red and blue couches with their mouths moving a mile a minute as they discussed a variety of heavy topics. The stories ranged from mental illness to mission trips. This two-day event was the first Human Library at UMF. Volunteers signed up to share their story with others.

The goal of the program was to encourage students to open up to one another. “We hope there will be constructive dialogue,” said Kelly Boivin, an organizer of the event.

“We hope this will be a way to break down walls and challenge assumptions, talk to people you don’t normally talk to and ask questions you wouldn’t normally ask,” added Vaughan Gagne, Mantor Library Manager of Administrative Services.   

There were 27 stories between the two days. “I think we have had a phenomenal response,” said Gagne, beaming.

President Kate Foster agreed that this event was a wonderful success. “I think it’s fantastic,” she said with a smile as she prepared to hurry over to hear another story. “I’m learning a lot and appreciating Farmington all over again.”

The human books came from all different walks of life. A sophomore shared his story about his battle with mental illness.  He opened up about his Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders that were originally diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder.  He wanted to share his story because he had seen similar events at other schools and thought it was “cool” but was a little bit nervous, thinking that he would just talk at people for 20 minutes.

He was pleasantly surprised that it was more of a question and answer session.  “I preferred that it was more of a conversation,” he said, readjusting in his seat. “I’ve gotten to see some presumptions people make, not even on purpose. [This event] is good to remove stigmas.”

A woman who retired from UMF in 2014 told a lighter story about her mission trips to Haiti and how she fell in love with the country.  The title of her book was fitting:  Haiti a Love Story.  She explained that St. Joseph’s parish in Farmington has a sister parish St. Laurent, in Haiti. She began traveling there on the mission trips in 2008 and has gone every year since.

“We go more to be than to do,” she said about the duties they perform. She and the other parish members began these trips to form a bond with the Haitian people that St. Joseph’s was providing funds to. “[We went] so that people in Haiti knew it was more than just about money, that we actually wanted a relationship with them,” she said “and to show the people of St. Joseph’s that the money was being well spent.”

She loves the culture of Haiti. “One of the many things that attracts me to Haiti, is their creativity,” she said with a smile.  “They make things out of anything, these are made out of cow horn,” she said pointing to her blue/ green earrings.  Even small markets are creative in their display. “Vegetables and fruits sold on the side of the road are always arranged very artistically,” she said.  

She shared her story because she wants people to see the many dimensions of Haiti. “We hear the bad press about poverty, but we don’t hear about the beauty of the country,” she said pulling from her bag a picture of one of the waterfalls with glistening blue water and beautiful green foliage.

Both Boivin and Gagne agree that this event was a success and want to do it again. “This year we held back a little bit and did not advertise off of campus,” said Boivin. “We were hesitant because we didn’t know how it would go.  Hopefully next year people will be more aware of what is going on.”