The Living Library

By: Matt Stottlemyer – ENGL 4450

I had the pleasure of attending The Living Library at the Casper College Humanities Festival on Wednesday, Feb. 22. This was an interesting experience because a Living Library does not function like a normal library would. At this event you “checked out” people who shared their stories and experiences with you. There were five different “books” that the participants could check out whose topics included; a student with combat induced PTSD, a young lady with cerebral palsy and her service dog, a Casper local who is in the process of gender transition, and how the seemingly normal choices of one man (put) him in an extraordinary place. The Living Library is not a new concept, but this was the first Living Library to be held within the state of Wyoming.

 My first “book” was a Casper College student who had served his country in Afghanistan from April 2011-April 2012. His unit was the last one do serve an entire year in combat. After their return the typical tour was reduced to nine months. This young man had the unfortunate experience of being in a helicopter accident. There were 30 people on board when their helicopter went down. He and his company survived for eight days on two days worth of supplies. While they were waiting for a unit to come rescue them his company had called in a record amount of bomb strikes to help them to be able to survive while under enemy fire. After telling us about his accident he then informed us about an automobile accident that he had been in. He stated that while driving through Moab, Utah his vehicle was t-boned by another driver. The smell of spilt motor oil coupled with trauma of the accident sent his mind vividly back to Afghanistan, even though he was in Utah. His experience serving his country should not be forgotten and I was honored to sit and listen to his experiences.  

 My next book that I “checked out” was a young lady with cerebral palsy and her service dog. She is a student who is working on her bachelor’s in education. She hopes to attain her degree and back it up with a specialization in educating those with special needs. She had transferred to Casper from the University of Utah. Her story began in Russia during the mid 1990’s. She was given to an orphanage by her parents because they could not care for her. Those with special needs were not fully understood in Russia during this time, and because of this she was kept in a crib until she was almost 3 years old. She stated that she would stare at the wall because it was about the only input that she had. At the age of 4 she was adopted by an American family. Her furry companion accompanies her everywhere she goes. He performs multiple tasks to assist her. He has been trained by her and her family to be able to take the commands that she gives and perform what she needs of him. He still gets to play like any other dog because if a dog is made to work all the time they become depressed just like a human would. By having a service dog she is able to perform a multitude of tasks that she would be unable to do without assistance. She had stated that the staff at Casper College have been nothing but helpful to her and her dog. She gets very little resistance to having her service animal with her everywhere she goes.

 My last book was someone who had considered themselves to be an “average joe” but through a series of everyday decisions wound up being the president of Casper College. He started his academic pursuits as a biology student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there he attained his master’s in wildlife biology from New Mexico State University. During his doctoral studies at Southern California State University, he was introduced to teaching because it was required of him to complete his coursework. Upon completion of his doctorate, he was invited to teach at Las Vegas Community College for a three-year visiting professorship. He decided that teaching was something that he had enjoyed. His passion for teaching shone through and he was promptly promoted. While he had begun his education wanting to work as a wildlife biologist he wound up becoming a professor, then an administrator. While it was not what he started out wanting to do he is quite content with his current position, and would not change anything he had done leading up to where he is currently.

 I would highly recommend that if one has an opportunity to attend a Living Library event that they should proceed post haste. This is an experience that everyone should take (part) in because it keeps the oral storytelling tradition alive in the digital age. It is a pleasure to take a few minutes out of our day to sit and listen to the experiences of others because our experiences are unique to us and should be shared with others.

Media contact: Lisa S. Icenogle

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