La Jolla Country Day School students check out human library books


Evan Spoelstra appeared hesitant at first, when asked to define his concept of a rabbi to an actual rabbi.

“I might be wrong, don’t quote me on this,” the ninth-grade La Jolla Country Day School student told Rabbi Yael Ridberg of Congregation Dor Hadash, “but I think a rabbi is some sort of priest in the Jewish religion.”

“Ding, ding, ding!” Ridberg replied.

On Friday, Nov. 3, LJCDS transformed its book library into a human one. The “human library” program asks students to imagine people as books. Instead of reading them, students can simply ask the books whatever they want. Sometimes, as with Ridberg, the books ask questions back.

“The goal is to break stereotypes and to bring the community closer together,” explained French teacher Natalie Rachel, who organized the event after attending a human library staged at the Central Library in March. (The program was pioneered in Denmark, where it’s so big, it gave birth to a TV series.)

LJCDS students attended the human library from 9 a.m. to noon — some with their classes, others alone during free periods. They got 20 minutes each with any of 16 books they wanted to sit down with and learn about. These also included an actor, a cookbook author and a podcaster.

A couple of books were more solemn reads. Myanmar refugee Way Hlaing talked about the four years he spent in a refugee camp as a child after his family was exiled by the Burmese government, while Veronica Murphy — a co-founder of the Write Out Loud program identified by a placard reading “theater professional and assault survivor” — told a harrowing story of attempted rape that had four female students on the verge of tears.

“I was screaming, and in order to get me to stop, he took three fingers and put them in my mouth and down my throat,” Murphy said. “I just kept making as much noise as I could, thinking that perhaps a neighbor might hear me. Ultimately, I think that’s what frightened him away.”

Rachel called the human library event a “complete success,” and LJCDS senior Lauren Mikuriya agreed.

“I complain about things and feel like everything’s going wrong,” Mikuriya said. “Yet it’s refreshing to know that there are people who are going through so much more, to say the very least, and yet they’re still going, day by day, to make progress.”

La Jolla Country Day School expects to repeat the program next spring.