Tolerance, compassion and understanding is getting some renewed attention lately, around the world as well as here at home in Wilton. Now the Wilton Library is bringing a groundbreaking new program to the community designed to inspire empathy and meaningful connection. Its Human Library will provide an opportunity for “readers” to sit one-on-one with 22 different “human books” and hear their stories. It’s scheduled for this Saturday, March 24, from 1-5 p.m..

“You are sitting one-on-one with somebody and they’re telling you their story–the hardship they’re dealing with, how they’re overcoming it or did overcome it. I love this incredible empathy you experience. You walk away understanding and looking at people a little differently. These days we could really use more of it, with everything going on in this country, and around the world. We need greater understanding of one another, and not simply judging people simply by their appearance or their identity, their gender or age, their religion, etc. Let’s open our minds and hear what people have to say. We’d be a lot better off.” So says Susan Lauricella, teen services and makerspace manager, who helped produce the program.

As the program name might imply, the stories available on that day are human “books”–community members who have volunteered to share their stories in order to break down barriers based on age, race, sexual orientation, religion, ability, lifestyle choices, or other aspects of their identity. Some of the 22 life stories being told that day range in topics from ageism to anorexia, from racism to surviving sexual assault, from being Christian to being Pagan, from defeating addiction to living with Alzheimer’s and much more.

“The tagline for the initiative is ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ which is very true for our brave volunteers. In these few hours, if we can gain just a modicum of understanding or compassion for what others are going through, whatever challenges or prejudices they face, then we will feel that we accomplished what we wanted for the community,” Lauricella adds.

The Human Library is an international movement that started in Denmark in 2000 and is now held in more than 70 countries. Wilton Library is the first non-academic library in Connecticut to receive permission from the Human Library Organization to host an event.

Melissa Baker, Wilton Library’s media and digital services librarian was convinced Wilton would be a great setting for the program. “We were thrilled when we got the OK from the Human Library organization. We felt that our Wilton Library audiences are naturally inquisitive, and this program would be a perfect fit for the community.”

Susan, Melissa and others have been working diligently over the past few months to discover people who were willing to share their personal stories of their struggles, and thereby enlighten people in the process.

“We have 22 people that have volunteered to share their stories. That does take courage. I hope people come, now, to hear them,” Lauricella says.

Wilton Library’s executive director Elaine Tai-Lauria is hopeful as well, knowing how big an impact something so innovative and with so much potential can have.

“With intolerance becoming the accepted norm on social media, this project gives people a chance to step back, and have a thoughtful and meaningful conversation in more than 140 characters with someone who might not naturally be part of their circle of influencers,” she says. “We’re looking to bring new insight to people in an original way.”

For an advance look at the “book jackets,” people can visit the library’s website where they can see the individual stories listed.

There is no advance registration for the program. People can sign up for 10-minute conversations with the human books when they come to the library on March 24, between 1-5 p.m..

The program is made possible with the help of sponsors Catamount Wealth Management and Mountainside Treatment Center of Wilton.

Wilton Library is located at 137 Old Ridgefield Rd..