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January 16, 2013

Story Time

As part of an international effort to promote diversity and social acceptance through dialogue, the University will host a Human Library—an event aimed at connecting individuals who might not normally interact.

The program gives “readers” an opportunity to borrow and engage in conversation with “human books,” volunteers willing to share their life experiences and interests in one-on-one or small-group conversations.  Readers “check out” human books for 30 minutes and are able to ask questions and learn about their lives.

“The Human Library will showcase the diversity of the University,” says LeRoy LaFleur, department head of Rush Rhees Reference and co-organizer of the event.

Rochester is believed to be the first academic institution in the state to host a Human Library. Approximately 20 people will share their stories at the Jan. 29 event in the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library. The University community and the general public are invited to the event, which takes place from 1 to 4 p.m.

The program was originally created as an antiviolence initiative by Danish youth movement “Stop The Violence” in 2000 and has since become a worldwide phenomenon, with hundreds of events hosted in libraries, festivals, book fairs, and educational institutions around the world.

Mari Tsuchiya, senior library assistant and a co-organizer of the event, says that readers stand to benefit from “getting a look into someone else’s life.” Such conversations can help break stereotypes or foster discussion about “difficult experiences that you might not normally talk to people about,” such as domestic abuse or cancer.

The Rochester event is cosponsored by River Campus Libraries and the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity.
A catalog of human books available at the event will be posted on the library website in mid-January. To learn more, contact Mari Tsuchiya at or call 275-5506.

These are just two of the people sharing their stories Jan. 29 at the Human Library at Rush Rhees Library:

Jason WagnerVolunteer Fire Chief in Ontario County

Fighting fires, saving lives, helping neighbors . . . Jason Wagner ’98 is a man of many talents.

By day, he serves the University community as electronic classroom coordinator with University IT. But the self-described adrenaline junkie is always on call to serve the community at large as volunteer fire chief with the Shortsville Fire

This “modern-day MacGyver” is all about community service—fighting fires, responding to major events such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, providing critical medical care as an emergency medical technician, and serving as chief of operations for the Ontario County Water Rescue Team.

Basir Barmak Afghan Higher Education Innovator

Basir Barmak is learning to teach—and helping share his insight with his fellow doctors in his native Afghanistan.

Barmak, a 2008 graduate of Kabul Medical University, is starting his second semester in the health professions education master’s degree program at the Warner School as a Fulbright scholar.

Every night you’ll find him on Skype—developing curricula with his colleagues or teaching courses at Cheragh Medical University in Kabul or talking with his wife and four children in Afghanistan.

After pursuing a PhD in the U.S., Barmak hopes to return to Afghanistan and lead higher education reform efforts with the country’s Ministry of Higher Education.

Caitlin Mack is a Take 5 student working in the University Communications office.

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