University Library Staff Enthralled by Henrietta Lacks

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On August 24, more than thirty staff members of University Library gathered to discuss this year’s One Book One Northwestern selection The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The topics touched upon in the discussion varied as widely as the topics covered in the book. The purpose of a common read program by a university community was discussed. It was agreed that this particular book is an excellent selection for Northwestern due to its interdisciplinarity as well as the breadth of subjects and disciplines to which it is relevant.

The experience of Henrietta and her family fascinated and touched library staff. Of particular interest was Henrietta’s strength in raising her family in difficult circumstances. There was some speculation of how different the paths of her children may have been had Henrietta not died. The roles that poverty, race, and family or local customs played in Henrietta’s and her family’s lives were also discussed. It was evident that people have a particular admiration for Henrietta's daughter Deborah and her perseverance through the journey documented in the book. The story of Deborah finally discovering what happened to her sister Elsie was particularly poignant to many staff.
Various staff members were amazed with how little they had thought about various aspects of medical ethics and the health industry including what happens to medical testing byproducts before they read the book. The paradox of distrust of the health profession as well as blind faith in medical authorities was also discussed.