UTM students swapped traditional textbooks for living, breathing human books at UTM’s second annual Living Library, held last Wednesday.

Approximately 60 students came to the Instructional Centre café, where they were given the opportunity to speak one-on-one with some of 11 different individuals for 25 minutes each. The conversations revolved around the person’s background, influences, career, family, and profession, but topics like politics and religion weren’t off-limits either.

“I hope [students] get to have an interesting chat and meet an interesting person, and maybe get a new perspective about what they could do when they graduate or what options are out there for them,” said Dray Perenic Price, UTM’s student development officer of outreach and engagement.

Students were able to schedule an appointment with the “living books” in advance or drop in and chat with them during the event. To help students choose which books to borrow, each participant chose a “title” to summarize their experiences and invite students to turn the first page.

Pacinthe Mattar, a UTM alumna and associate producer at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation—who called herself It’s Complicated, But It’s Fun—spoke to fifth-year student Sarah Gong about her role working on the CBC Radio show The Current.

“She told me about the process [of working] as a producer, what her day-to-day activities are like, the steps that they go through at the CBC,” explained Gong.

Last year’s Living Library drew approximately 80 students who had a chance to read 15 living books. “[Students] hoped we would do it again, which is why we are here this year,” said Kate McGartland-Kinsella, the student development officer of leadership and learning at UTM’s Office of Student Life.

The other books included former UN official Sven Spengemann, archaeologist Andrew Graham, Aboriginal elder Cat “Mark” Criger, world traveller and businessman Alex Barseghian, poet Anna Yin, author Demetra Dimokopoulos, former City of Guelph chief of police Lenna Bradburn, and forensic anthropologist Tracy Rogers.

“I think the whole idea of the library is really neat,” said Prof. Ken Derry of the UTM Department of Historical Studies, who participated for the second time this year. “I think it’s amazing for students to be able to talk to a range of people about different things.”

Jazz vocalist and U of T alumna Sophie Milman also spoke to students. “Unlike a regular book, there’s conversation going,” said Milman. “It’s not just about me but it’s about them, too.”

Milman titled herself Immigration Unlimited and spoke to students about her life as a Juno-winning artist and commerce graduate.

“It was nice to talk to two immigrant students because I’m a double immigrant myself,” said Milman. “To see these women, so different, from different places of the world, studying, thriving—it was wonderful.”

Staff from the UTM Department of Student Life, the Career Centre, the Department of Student Housing and Residence Life, the Office of Alumni Relations, the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, the Health and Counselling Centre, and the Equity and Diversity Office assembled the books.

“It’s a really cool way of learning,” said fourth-year participant Alice Yu. “I really like talking to people who are already successful, who already have their lives figured out.”

The event is modelled on similar “human book” events gaining popularity around the world, such as those held by the Human Library Organization in Europe.

This article has been modified from the print version. Sophie Millman graduated from St. George, not UTM.