Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library (ALA2013)

I attended the Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library presentation/discussion during ALA2013, and definitely enjoyed learning more about the special interest group and the idea of setting up a Deaf Cultural Digital Library in every state. Alec McFarlane was an excellent presenter and a joy to talk with after the session was over. (I and two other attendees talked for a long time afterwards. The old stereotype of deaf people being unable to say goodbye was very true here.)

Seriously though, having a resource center for libraries and their deaf/HOH users is sorely needed. As one librarian who attended said, if someone came in needing assistance, she wouldn’t know where to begin.

First off, people need to understand that there is a wide range of people who fall into the ‘deaf/HOH’ category. Not everyone is completely deaf. It’s a range. There’s people who have very little difficulty with their hearing loss. There’s people who can barely hear anything. and there’s people in between. Not everyone knows American Sign Language. Some may rely on SEE. Some may be completely oral. Some may be proficient in English, others struggle with English as a second language. We all have different needs and preferences, and for someone who is unfamiliar with this whole segment of the population, it can seem overwhelming.

That’s where a DCDL would come in handy.

There is grant money to help libraries provide services like captioning or interpreters to their deaf users. DCDL would be useful if it could help people find and apply for those grants, so assistive services don’t necessarily have to take a bite out of the general budget.

What kind of programs could libraries create in order to draw deaf users into the library? If you don’t know what the deaf community in the area need, it’s easy for programs to flop. Having resources for planning programs would be of use, and that’s where the DCDL could help.

One such program that we discussed at this session is essentially an ESL program. English IS a second language for culturally Deaf people. I remember growing up thinking that other deaf people were bookworms like me, just because it was so much easier to read words than to listen to people, but it is not always the case. That’s where captioning, as useful as it is, can fail.

Libraries should also do some outreach and work with organizations that serve the deaf community. You can’t always bring non-library users into the library just by holding programs in the building. You have to go out. Network. Have meetings. Attend deaf chats. Bring the library to the people, and give them a reason to come in. The DCDL could help with finding opportunities for outreach.

On a personal note, I’m not entirely sure having one of these libraries in each state will actually be able to happen. (I’m being rather pessimistic, I know. Budget tightness and all.) Certainly, I WANT something like this in every state, but some states do better than others in supporting libraries and resource centers. A DCDL in those states would thrive. Maryland seems to be the first state to even start thinking about a DCDL in the form of a taskforce. There is one small resource center, the Veditz Center, that is a sort of “pre-DCDL” organization trying to get funding together for a true Deaf Cultural Digital Library in Maryland.

But other states?

I think a national DCDL will better pave the way for local/regional DCDLs in a couple of ways. 1, it will  provide lawmakers with an example organization to follow. Not every state wants to be first and risk public derision (even more than usual, that is). If there’s something to point to or a path they can follow, then it might make it easier in the other states.

Also, a national DCDL to tie together these local ones would be beneficial. Looking at the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the main organization provides a network, linking all of the regional/state-level libraries together, and provides a base of accessible material that each location can supplement with more local-interest items. Building DCDLs on a state level and then building up…it could work. I want it to work. But I suspect that it would definitely make it difficult to coordinate communication and pool resources without a national library or board to help codify the policies and streamline the processes, or provide the base of accessible material and resources.

There is not a whole lot of information about DCDLs online yet, probably because it’s still so new of a concept, and I have been unable to find any websites on the subject. However, for the basics of deaf services, the Red Notebook is a good resource. It first created by Alice L. Hagemeyer during her role as the Librarian for the Deaf Community at DC Public Library. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while, but it’s a start.

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