Off the Page


Everyone knows that old bit of wisdom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But in the case of the Baltimore County Public Library’s “Human Library” event, the books are living, breathing people whose stories are written by years of experience. And the covers may be the lenses by which we view them.

During the event, scheduled to take place at the Owings Mills branch on April 21,  14 “books”–or presenters–will share their stories with patrons over the course of three hours.

Attendees will hear from a transgender high school teacher, a deaf woman, a Muslim-American woman, and a Ukrainian Lawyer serving in the U.S. Army and awaiting citizenship, to name a few. They, along with the other “books,” will have individual time to tell their personal narratives and open the floor for questions.

“This is about challenging stereotypes through dialogue,” says the library’s adult and community engagement manager Julie Brophy. “We are expecting difficult questions and emotional conversations, and we appreciate that.”

Zainab Chaudry, a Muslim-American woman telling her story (called Build Bridges, Not Walls) chose to start wearing her hijab, the head scarf worn by some Muslim women, at age 19. Since then, she has been asked countless questions about it and has even been stopped on the street by strangers. When she was notified of the event, she was compelled to send in an application to tell her story.

“We can read through books, textbooks, newspapers, articles but so much of what we communicate to each other is through nonverbal means – about 75 percent. Having this human library adds more context and substance to our stories,” Chaudry says.

Suzi, a transgender woman who went through her transition while maintaining a job as a public-school teacher, also intends to educate with her story, Teaching While Trans.

“It is very important for people to be educated about what it means to be trans. What [people] do know, they learn from an entertainment media that often presents a biased and inaccurate view,” she says. “When people have a chance actually to meet a transgender person face-to-face and carry on a discussion, it does a lot to dispel ignorance.”

Brophy says she is most excited to watch the audience members’ eyes light up as they learn new information from the “books.”

“I am excited to watch the moment when people realize they can understand each other better,” Brophy says, adding that the connections she made to the 14 participants has already expanded her own worldview.

“A book would be great for people to read and get a better idea of who we are, but they won’t get the full story because in those words, there is only so much context the writer can embed,” Chaudry agrees. “Engaging in person changes the dynamic.”

See the full list of “human books” below:

  • Teaching While Trans written by a transgender high school teacher
  • Waiting for a Sign by a deaf woman
  • Building Bridges, Not Walls by a Muslim-American woman
  • It Could Never Happen to Me by a formerly homeless mother of eight
  • Perfectly Imperfect by a man thriving after being diagnosed with several mental illnesses
  • An Inside Look at the Foster Care System by a Baltimore County foster care case manager
  • Profiled in Courage by a woman whose family was racially profiled by the police in a terrifying encounter
  • Broken Liquid by a woman who was raped, trafficked, beaten and left for dead
  • Where Did I Leave My Closet? by an LGBT mother
  • Autistic: Not A Robot by a successful woman with Asperger syndrome
  • I Will Never Accept Defeat written by a Ukrainian lawyer serving in the U.S. Army and awaiting citizenship
  • Sikhing Truth by a Sikh history teacher
  • To Protect and Serve by a Baltimore County Police Lieutenant
  • The Man in Black: Trans and Saudi by a transgender Saudi Arabian man who fled to the U.S. to transition safely

The “Human Library” event will be held from 1-4 p.m. April 21 at the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. 

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