Damitra Penny, of the Hill District, will be among those sharing her story for the Human Library Project on July 31. Photo courtesy of Consumer Health Coalition.

A human library sounds straight out of a sci-fi flick. But in reality, it’s much more down to earth. Instead of books, the stories from this “library” are coming from people.

“I’ll be talking about how a mother with a disability can be affected by her daughter’s disability,” explains Damitra Penny, who is speaking at the first Human Library event at 6 p.m. Monday, July 31, at the Carnegie Library in East Liberty.

“I really think people want to talk about it. They think they’re all by themselves. I want them to know they’re not. I’m here. We always think, whatever the problem, mothers should be able to fix it—and they can’t always do it. There’s sometimes where you’re helpless as a parent.”

The Consumer Health Coalition, a North Side-based healthcare advocacy nonprofit, is conducting the Human Library project. The plan is to host many more events in other locations. It’s not a new idea, just new to Pittsburgh.

“It started in 2000 in Denmark,” says Kali Stull, an organizer for the Consumer Health Coalition. “It has spread throughout the world as a way to create a platform to break down the barriers and misunderstandings we have about each other.”

“People’s stories are powerful. By hearing them, you can break through a lot of the things that keep us separated, and hurt us.”

All the stories will deal with behavioral health issues, though that term is interpreted broadly.

“Behavioral heath is sometimes used interchangeable with mental health,” says Stull. “It includes substance abuse and addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, seasonal affective disorder, postpartum depression.”

Another guest storyteller, Dan, will talk about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in Vietnam, and how it’s affected his postwar life.

“Someone will tell their story for 10-12 minutes and take questions from the people who have been listening,” explains Stull. “It’s designed to be a platform to breakthrough all the things we’re polite and silent about.”

The event is free and open to the public. To share your own story at another Human Library event, or find out more, contact the Consumer Health Coalition.

The Consumer Health Coalition works to eliminate the disparities in health due to racial and ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic or disability status.

The Human Library project is supported by funding from the Staunton Farm Foundation.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.