Mount Royal University is giving students a new way to learn about the world around them and has assembled a collection of ‘human books’ to share stories and real-life experiences.

The Living Library allows guests to sign out a speaker for 15 minutes for one-on-one interviews to talk about a variety of topics.

The speakers or human books include a student who survived the Rwandan genocide, a former gang member who now attends the school and an Olympian who beat breast cancer.

“What they’ll get is that, sort of, the heart connection, the pieces that impacted the person. They’ll get the facial expressions and I think the best part is, they get the opportunity later to meet them in the hallway and feel like, I’ve met you, I know you, we can build a relationship, we can continue to explore stories and explore our community,” said Monique Verhoef, Diversity and Human Rights Coordinator at MRU.

The concept is not new and has been rolled out at other educational institutions and public libraries around the world.

“When I saw it I said we need to do that here at Mount Royal as a way to bring our community together. I think the premise of the living library is that everybody has a story to tell. It takes a lot of courage to tell it sometimes but when we tell each other our stories, when we share our stories, that we feel more connected to each other and for those that get to listen to the stories, there’s that ability to have an empathetic human connection with someone else,” said Verhoef.

Dr. Patricia Pardo has about three percent functional vision and has been losing her eyesight from the middle of her eyes so she uses assistive technology to read text.

She is taking part in the living library initiative and says she hopes to dispel some of the misinformation about blindness and vision loss.

“I hope to create a space where I can share my story and in doing so let people know that, although I am partially sighted and losing my eyesight, that that’s really only one part of who I am. It’s certainly been influential, it’s certainly shaped my lived experience but it’s not the only thing that defines me and what I know about disability, certainly blindness, is that our society continues to hold some fairly negative values, beliefs and assumptions about blindness that contribute to the way in which people who are blind, experience their community and society,” she said.

Kevin Padillo was a member of the notorious FOB gang before he quit and became a business student at MRU.

Padillo is among 10 others who are offering themselves up to speak to the students about their experiences.

“I feel that my story can impact any other people. Like, I’m not different from anyone else. I’m a human just like everyone, I breathe, I sleep, but I feel that my own experiences, another person can grow off of that, because I have grown myself,” he said. “I feel that during my own experiences in a gang, you’re always being told what to do, you’re always going to be under someone unless you’re at the top and being in a gang I realized that you have no autonomy, you may have all this power and respect but it’s not really respect, its fear,”

 “Here at Mount Royal the goal of the living library was to bring our community together to celebrate and highlight the unique and diverse stories that exist here and for people to have the opportunity to be like, I am part of an amazing community with amazing people,” said Verhoef.

For more information on the MRU Living Library, click HERE.

(With files from Kevin Green)