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PBC Library

The NAU library website for the Phoenix Biomedical Campus Library

Living Library

The Living Library

Welcome to the landing page for the PBC Living Library program! The Living Library is a special program that empowers people who have experienced health disparities and systemic oppression in the American healthcare system.

We affirm the narratives of our patients and community members who have felt discrimination because of how they identify, and we provide a place for these same individuals to tell their stories in a safe and inviting space. 

We call these brave storytellers books

And because a library needs people to read its books, we invite current and future health professionals to join us as readers

For the most part, our readers are students, faculty, and staff of the ASU, NAU, and UofA health science and medical programs in Phoenix, Arizona. Our readers bravely join in conversation with our books, sharing stories, and learning how health disparities impact their lives, and how those same disparities can be reduced or eliminated.

On the following tabs, you will learn more about what it means to be a book, a reader, and a living library volunteer. You will also find information about our program sponsors. If you have any questions, or if you'd like to help, please contact:

Happy reading!

Who can be a book?

At the PBC Living Library, our books are individuals who have experienced harm or discrimination in healthcare, based on how they identify. Some of us call that harm, healthcare disparities. Basically, healthcare disparities are inequities in entrenched in our healthcare system. These inequities derive from sexism, racism, homophobia + transphobia, immigration status, able-bodiedness, age, education, and class (among other social identities). Many books will have experienced stacked inequities because they belong to more than one underserved identity. 

A lot of the books at the Living Library are people who have experienced great difficulty, trauma, and adversity in their healthcare. For that reason, we recognize that persons who volunteer their time and energy to be books are empowering themselves and their communities. We recognize that they are engaging in emotional labor, and we believe that doing so will help benefit others who are in situations similar to themselves. We affirm their experiences, and we believe their experiences.

How can I be a book?

First, you want to read through the section above, and decide 1) that you meet the criteria for our program, and 2) that you are willing to engage in difficult conversation. We promise that we will have persons available all day to help provide counseling and emotional support. Even so, we understand that we are asking books to relive difficult experiences, and we want to acknowledge that.

Second, you'll want to read through and fill out the registration form on this page. It will provide more details about logistics, and how the program is structured.

What does a book bio look like?

Here's an example that books might follow when considering how they would "title" themselves:

This is a picture of a sample book title from a person with PTSD

Finally, if you'd like to see what a typical experience looks like, check out the following video produced by Glendale Community College Library after their Human Library in 2013:

Register to be a book:

Who gets to be a reader?

Anybody! For the most part, our readers are students at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus; however, faculty, staff, and community members are also welcome to join. 

BTW: if you're unsure what a reader is, or does, here's a brief explanation...readers are curious, human-centered persons who want to meet and learn from our books, all of whom have experienced difficulties with healthcare due in part to how they identify. Readers might want to get to know someone who belongs to community of people that the reader hasn't been around. Readers might also want to meet with books who have had experiences that they also share. Really, it's up to our readers who they choose to "check out". That said, this event is designed as an opportunity to challenge our own biases and privilege, and really come to terms with the many ways that discrimination can lead to harm for our patients and our communities.

How does reading a book work?

First, many of our readers will want to reserve a book beforehand. Our books all have titles and short "book covers" that explain to us how they want to be identified. Starting approximately 1 month before the Living Library program, all of the book info will go live in Eventbrite. At that point, we'll post a link on this page, where people can go to make selections.

What if I don't register beforehand?

That's okay! Anybody can show up to check out a book on the day of the Living Library. Once you arrive, we will have a fancy event booth set up with book titles, covers, and info about availability. Most book interactions will be approximately 20 minutes, and in some cases, more than one reader at a time can visit with a book. Remember though, if a book is "checked out", then you'll need to wait for them to become available, or choose from one of the many other amazing people who have given up their time to come and talk with us.

What should I talk about with a book?

There are a few rules to keep in mind when you sit down with a book.

  • Remember that, just like a real book, our human books will set the narrative; let them go at their own pace
  • It's okay to ask tough questions! Our books are aware that you will have questions, and are prepared to discuss them
    • However! Please keep in mind that we are not here to discriminate, harass, or question the truth of someone's narrative. We are here to learn, and to bravely question our own biases through our conversations with the human books

Here are a few questions you might ask a book:

  • When (or how old were you) did you become aware of the stereotypes/prejudice towards you?
  • What resources have you used to take control over your own health?
  • What has made discrimination in medicine and healthcare worse for you? (legislations, mass media, etc.)
  • How has your community been there for you when medical providers have not? Vice versa?
  • What kind of words and actions can healthcare providers use to show you dignity?
  • Call to action: what can we do after we leave today to help reduce discrimination for persons in situations similar to your own? 

 How can I be a librarian for a day? 

Volunteers at the PBC Living Library can help out in a number of ways! Like books, we do request that all volunteers be at least 18 years old on the day of the program. Volunteers should also be available all day from 8:30AM - 2:30PM if at all possible. Additionally, we will have one in-person and/or online training for volunteers to walk them through the process in mid-March. We will provide food and parking; here's what you can do:

  • usher people around campus
  • check-in and check-out "books" to readers
  • sign in students who are coming for class
  • provide grief counseling and support***

***we request that anybody who wants to help give emotional support be: 1) a credentialed therapist or counselor, 2) a graduate student in a behavioral health discipline does this work? 

For the most part, the Living Library works very similarly to a traditional library; however,our living books are just that: living! 

Other than that, this is how it works:

On the day of the Living Library, our books will be situated at individual tables decked with title cards, pens, and notepads:

A picture of a person sitting at a deskA picture of a pen and paperA picture of two people talking

We will have a "circulation desk" set up at the front of the event space, where books can check in, sign release forms, and be ushered to their seats. Readers will also check in here. In fact, if they are attending for a class, this is where they will sign in for class! Readers will have already selected a book online, or if they haven't, they can select an "available" book from our book display at the circulation desk. Displays will have book titles and covers for readers to peruse before making a decision.

A picture of a person thinkingA picture of books on a shelfa picture of a person with an idea

Once a book has been selected, the reader or group of readers will be ushered to that book's table, where they can engage in conversation, listening to the book's story, asking questions, and maybe sharing stories of their own. Many of our readers may have assignments that they need to complete for class. If this is the case, they will likely be writing down notes as they talk. Additionally, if at anytime someone would like to speak with a counselor, there will be people available at-hand to help.

 What can I learn from the Living Library? 

A primary component of evidence-based practice is the focus on patients' situations, values, and circumstances. At The PBC Living Library, we recognize the importance of that component to EBP curriculum, and have created several assignment opportunities that intersect with coursework. As you read through the assignments listed, please keep in mind that all can be adjusted, and if any do not fit specifically with your course criteria, feel free to contact mary catherine lockmiller at

The Implicit Association Test

For this assignment, students should take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) before signing up to read a book. Once they have taken their test, they should consider reading a book that they have a bias towards (whether implicit or explicit). Prior to their meeting, they should write a short reflection considering what they can learn, and how it will help them develop a more inclusive healthcare practice.

Students should come to the reading prepared to hear what the book has to say. They should also consider asking about particular myths they might hold about the book (without being disrespectful, of course!). After finishing, students will take the IAT again, and write another reflection considering what they've learned, how their scores have or have not changed, and what they can do to integrate persons against whom they are biased into their practice.

Read a (paper!) book...

Before they have attended the Living Library event, students will check out a book from the PBC Library that is concerned with persons who experience disparities in healthcare. They can search specifically in the library's new medical humanities and narrative medicine collections for books specific to their needs. Once they are done reading their book, students can write a report explaining how the books' descriptions and narratives helped shape their thinking concerning disparities towards persons from underserved communities. 

Then, students will attend the Living Library, and try to sign up to read a book that has had experiences similar to those in the books they read for class. They will compare the descriptions in the "real" book with the descriptions told by the living, human book whose story they hear. They can then write another reflection that ties the two narratives together.

Understanding disparities

For this assignment, students will want to select a book from whom they can learn about health and healthcare disparities faced by persons who belong to underrepresented communities. Students can then engage with their book, and try to capture that individual person's experience, and how it relates to a community-at-large.

Students will then need to perform their own research into health and healthcare disparities in the population to which the book belongs. Finally, they will collect their "interview" with the human book, and combining that with the research they've found, they give a presentation on disparities affecting that particular community, and how practitioners in their own field can help to alleviate those disparities.

Reflexive research and practice

This is an advanced assignment that calls on students to consider the many systems that work together to produce privilege for some and disadvantage for others in healthcare. This is best understood by developing an understanding of social determinants of health. In doing so, students should research the many social determinants that affect at-risk populations in Arizona. As they do so, they should create a short interview questionnaire that will help them construct a deeper understanding of those social determinants when they interview their "books". 

As the books tell their stories, students should consider best practices for qualitative interviewing and directing questions accordingly. They will want to get a full appreciation of the book's narrative, while also guiding that narrative to build a solid foundation for understanding how a single person can be privileged / disadvantaged by various social determinants. As students prepare for this interview, they should write a short reflection where they consider their own privilege and disadvantages, and the social determinants that have affected their own lives. They should also consider how this will help them relate or not relate to a book.

Finally, once students have finished hearing their book's narratives and interviewing them, they should reconstruct everything they've learned into a presentation that focuses specifically on how legal, medical, educational, religious, organizational, and cultural systems can instill privilege or disparity for persons who identify in various ways. For materials related specifically to this assignment, please contact catherine lockmiller at

We would like to thank the following:

The AHSL Library, Phoenix Biomedical Campus

The Cline Library at NAU Main

The NAU College of Health & Human Sciences, Phoenix

The University of Arizona COM-PHX Narrative Medicine Program

The University of Arizona COM-PHX Office of Diversity and Inclusion




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