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Sharing stories, transferring knowledge: Carleton University’s Indigenous Human Library

“Human book” Geraldine King (centre left) talking with Carleton University students about the long and arduous road to education faced by indigenous students in her session entitled “The Young and the Rez-less: Pointless Pontifications of an Ojibway Urbanite.”


Often we learn the most about each other when we sit together, break some bread and share our stories. This winter Carleton University students, staff, and faculty had a chance to eat, drink, and connect with members of Ottawa’s aboriginal community at the university’s first Indigenous Human Library.

The event was the brainchild of Naomi Sarazin, a cultural liaison officer with Carleton’s Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE), which supports First Nations, Inuit and Métis students through their academic journeys. This includes finding innovative approaches to introducing the campus community to aboriginal experiences and knowledge.

“We are always envisioning new ways to share aboriginal ways of knowing on campus,” she says, “and I thought this library would be a creative way to do so.”

The human books were First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people reflecting Canada’s diverse backgrounds and perspectives. With tea or coffee in hand, seventeen “books” were “read” by more than 100 attendees. Each reading was 20 to 25 minutes in length and books could find themselves talking with either a single reader or small groups. Topics ranged from the unique experiences of aboriginal youth, to designing inclusive architecture, to the history of aboriginal television in Canada.

“Aboriginal peoples include many nations with distinct histories, cultures, traditions, languages, and worldviews,” says Sarazin. “The human books shared their ways of transferring knowledge, whether it was through storytelling, songs, dance, or artwork.”

Senior interlibrary loan technician Christine Taylor was one of the Carleton staff who worked at the event.  Christine is also a part-time Carleton student and has studied human libraries as a tool for positive indigenous representation. For her, the evening was both a chance to see research applied to a real-life situation and to talk with someone she might not otherwise have met.  “I could peek into someone else’s life without feeling like an unwelcome voyeur.”

The event also featured a speaker’s corner, where select books and readers were videotaped talking about their human library experiences. Listen to human book Darryl Diamond, a liaison with the Cree School Board in Gatineau, as well as Carleton undergraduate students and readers Graham Schonfield and Brian Christian, talk about being part of the human library.


Martha Attridge Bufton, Subject Specialist, Carleton University Library.

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