About the Vermont Humanities Council

Because Ideas Matter

Library Uses the Humanities to Guide Community Conversations

Image of Jennifer Murray and Barbara Ziemann

Although many libraries around Vermont regularly schedule our programs, it’s unusual for a library to engage with the Council as often as has the South Burlington Community Library.

Over the past year, the library has participated in five different VHC programs: Speakers Bureau, Reading and Discussion, Vermont Reads, Reading Frederick Douglass, and the Grants program.

Library Director Jennifer Murray (at left above) credits VHC’s 2015 Fall Conference for “really opening my mind to the humanities.” She left the conference convinced that the humanities offer a way for people to “think things through and learn from each other as they engage in the pursuit of knowledge.”

That perspective influenced the library’s decision to host a Reading Frederick Douglass event in June, 2016. Participants took turns reading aloud Douglass’ famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Following the reading, community members lingered in the library for a lengthy, and sometimes cathartic, discussion about racism. “Even a month afterward, people told me how important it was to be involved,” says Barbara Ziemann, Public Service Librarian. “That gave me a real sense of the impact a single program can have.”

Jennifer and Barbara used funds from VHC’s Grants program to help create a five-part series to explore the challenges faced by military personnel returning to civilian life. Titled “Coming Home from War,” the series looks at the experience of war across time and cultures, examines the responsibility of society to survivors of war, and discusses the impact of war on communities.

“Getting the grant means that we can have this really wonderful variety of speakers,” says Jennifer. “It allows us to increase the professionalism of what we can offer.” Speakers in the series include:

  • March 16: Dr. Laura Gibson, Associate Director of Behavioral Health for the White River Junction VA Medical Center
  • April 13: Judy Boyd, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who recently completed a one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
  • May 11: Akol Aguek, who spent over a decade in refugee camps before coming to Vermont as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan
  • June 15: Zachariah Fike, a Captain in the Vermont Army National Guard, who founded Purple Hearts Reunited.

“One of the things that VHC does is push us to think a little differently,” Jennifer says. “What can we present to the residents of South Burlington that will encourage them to think more and to talk amongst themselves more?”