JANE MESSINA on her experiences at an unusual library event in Oxford

When I moved to Oxford, I wouldn’t have believed that a little over a year later, I’d be sitting in a room with a recovered drug addict, a transgendered Asperger’s sufferer, an HIV-positive asylum seeker, and a depressed lesbian. And what’s more is we were all getting on great.

I know what you’re thinking — Janey is so lucky, why didn’t I get to be in that room? Sarcasm aside, it was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life, “it” being the Oxfordshire Mind Human Library event on May 18.

At the event, “library” visitors were allowed to take “books” on loan for 20 minutes, listening to their stories and able to ask any questions they’d like. The aim was to challenge stigma and prejudice, all while building connections between real live human beings.

When I agreed to participate as a “book” titled OCD, Anxiety, and Depression, I honestly had no idea what a treat I was in for — both in terms of the people who’d “read” me as well as the other “books” I’d meet.

So there we all were, crammed into a couple of dressing rooms in the basement of the Old Fire Station theatre, waiting to be told someone had “loaned” us.

I honestly thought there’d be little interest in my book title, but to my surprise I barely had a few minutes between being “loaned” each time to sit downstairs with the other “books” whose stories I was getting to learn myself. This was particularly unfortunate when I got “loaned” just as two transgendered women were explaining that they are still attracted to women and consider themselves to be lesbians.

Who cares about my boring tendencies to obsess over irrational worries with this gripping conversation happening? But to my surprise, I found the “readers” to be just as intriguing as the other “books” due to their open-mindedness and true desire to learn more about other human beings who may not be just like them, or what society deems “normal” (a term I strictly don’t believe in).

While a few of them knew about the event and came specifically to talk to me or one of the other “books”, the majority were literally pulled off the street by the event’s volunteers, deciding “sure”, a chat with a stranger about their life’s challenges would be a nice break in my Saturday afternoon.

One woman actually told me she felt sad for me that I’d been a victim of stigma, and in all honesty, the sympathy of that complete stranger meant the world to me.

I know I tend to harp on about the English being somewhat detached, but this event was an example of the truly amazing people that are walking around Oxford every day and are willing to share the intimate details of their life with others, and also of the wonderfully broadminded individuals who care to listen.

And who knows, it might have just helped a few people. Sign me up for the next one!