On Tuesday, March 31, University Libraries at Virginia Tech will offer several new stories for patrons, but they won’t be found on the pages of books or even on the screens of tablets.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at second floor commons of Newman Library, 560 Drillfield Drive, members of the university community will become live storytellers, sharing their unique perspectives and life experiences. The event is free and open to the public.

Designed to create dialogue, promote understanding, and reduce prejudice, the Living Library will feature diverse storytellers who will share information about who they are, where they come from, and how their experiences have shaped them. 

Visitors can borrow these stories just like a book from the library for up to 30 minutes and engage in an open conversation with the storyteller about life, experience, identity, and culture.

“Telling a powerful story can help another person share the power of their life history,” said Christian Matheis of San Antonio, Texas, who recently earned a doctoral degree in ethical and political thought from the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Matheis will be one of more than 20 students, faculty, and staff from Virginia Tech sharing their stories through the Living Library.

“I have a lot to learn from others but cannot do so without first sharing my own story to show trust and invite others to share,” explained Matheis. “This forum will hopefully provide these kinds of opportunities.”

Matheis said he hopes to discuss his experiences with and thoughts on order and authority, and how use of these as a means of control can diminish creativity and impair the trust needed for humane social relations.

Rachel Montague of Beckley, West Virginia, a senior majoring in architecture in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, plans to share her experiences growing up in a rural environment surrounded by poverty and crime. After struggling as a gifted student in a rural school system, Montague found her place at Virginia Tech and developed a passion for educational design.

“I enjoy using my energy to try to educate people about taking stereotypes for granted and being more mindful in general about their perceptions of the world,” said Montague. “I’m excited to share my thoughts on my early life and how I grew throughout college into the person I am now, as well as to get feedback on those thoughts.”

The Living Library is sponsored by University Libraries and two campus organizations: Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and Ask Big Questions, a group that brings diverse college students together for conversations that help people understand themselves and others.

“I love Ask Big Questions' mission and I believe that discussing fundamentally deep topics with people of different experiences and backgrounds allows for greater understanding of those other individuals, and of yourself,” said Rachel Gertler of Ellicott City, Maryland, a senior majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and an Ask Big Questions fellow.

“We hope the Living Library broadens people's horizons on both diversity and learning from experience,” added Gertler.

The Living Library is one of 86 initiatives to support InclusiveVT, the university-wide effort to advance inclusion and diversity initiatives on campus. 

Additional information can be found on the University Libraries website.

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