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Libraries and the Deaf community

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The needs of deaf patrons in the library are similar to those of other patrons. However, deaf patrons may have more difficulty accessing materials and services. Over the last few decades, libraries in the United States have begun to implement services and collections for deaf patrons working to make their collections and services more accessible.


The American Library Association considers disabled people, including the Deaf, as a minority that is often overlooked by library staff.[1] However, libraries across the United States are making improvements in library accessibility through the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies; this includes accommodations for the Deaf community. [2]

One of the first activists in the library community working toward accessibility for the deaf was Sandy Cohen, who has a background in Deaf Education, followed by Alice Lougee Hagemeyer, who is deaf herself.[citation needed]

Australian librarian Karen McQuigg stated in 2003 that "even ten years ago, when I was involved in a project looking at what public libraries could offer the deaf, it seemed as if the gap between the requirements of this group and what public libraries could offer was too great for public libraries to be able to serve them effectively" (McQuigg, 2003). Clearly, not even so long ago, there was quite a dearth of information for or about the deaf community available in libraries across the nation and around the globe.

New guidelines from library organizations such as International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the ALA were written in order to help libraries make their information more accessible to people with disabilities, and in some cases, specifically the Deaf community. IFLA’s Guidelines for Library Services to Deaf People is one such set of guidelines, and it was published to inform libraries of the services that should be provided for Deaf patrons.[3] Most of the guidelines pertain to ensuring that Deaf patrons have equal access to all available library services. Other guidelines include training library staff to provide services for the Deaf community, availability of text telephones or TTYs not only to assist patrons with reference questions but also for making outside calls, using the most recent technology in order to communicate more effectively with deaf patrons, including closed captioning services for any television services, and developing a collection that would interest the members of the deaf community.(Day, 2000, p. 12-22)

Over the years, library services have begun to evolve in order to accommodate the needs and desires of local deaf communities. At the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL) in New York, the staff implemented new and innovative ideas in order to involve the community and library staff with the Deaf people in their community. The QBPL hired a deaf librarian, Lori Stambler, to train the library staff about deaf culture, to teach sign language classes for family members and people who are involved with deaf people, and to teach literacy classes for deaf patrons. In working with the library, Stambler was able to help the community reach out to its deaf neighbors, and helped other deaf people become more active in their outside community (Hollander, 1995).

Deaf services[edit]

The library at Gallaudet University, the only deaf liberal arts university in the United States, was founded in 1876. The library has grown from a small number of reference books to the world’s largest collection of deaf-related material with over 234,000 books and thousands of other materials in different formats. The collection is so large that the library had to create a hybrid classification system based on the Dewey Decimal System in order to make cataloging and location within the library much easier for both library staff and users.[clarification needed] The library also houses the university’s archives, which holds some of the oldest deaf-related books and documents in the world (Harrington, 1998, par. 11-14).

In Nashville, Tennessee, Sandy Cohen is managing the Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (LSDHH). The program was created in 1979 in response to information accessibility issues for the Deaf in the Nashville area. Originally, the only service provided was the news via a teletypewriter or TTY, by 2006 the program served the entire state of Tennessee by providing all[clarification needed] different types of information and material on deafness, deaf culture, and information for family members of deaf people, as well as a historical and reference collection (Cohen, 2006, p. 51-52).


  1. "Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy | Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA)". Ala.org. 2001-01-16. Retrieved 2015-04-17.
  2. "Library Service to People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Forum", American Library Association, December 4, 2006. http://www.ala.org/ascla/asclaourassoc/asclasections/lssps/lspdhhf/lspdhhf (Accessed April 1, 2018) Document ID: 604a3ff2-7f19-b5b4-f5f3-cdaad7c8bf7d
  3. Day, John Michael (2000). "Guidelines for Library Services to Deaf People" (PDF).
  • American Library Association. (2012). Library services for people with disabilities policy. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ascla/asclaissues/libraryservices
  • Cohen, S. (2006). Have you heard about the Library Services for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing? Tennessee Libraries, 56(1), 51–56.
  • Day, J. M. (2000). Guidelines for library services to deaf people (Report no. 62). The Hague: International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.
  • Hagemeyer, A. L. (2001). Achievement: From a lack of knowledge to an appreciation of Deaf history. IFLA Conference Proceedings, 1–3.
  • Harrington, T.R. (1998). The Deaf collection at the Gallaudet University Library. Education Libraries, 22(3), 5-12.
  • Hollander, P. (1995). Deaf-advocacy at Queens Borough PL. American Libraries, 26(6), 560–562.
  • McQuigg, K. (2003). Are the deaf a disabled group, or a linguistic minority? Issues for librarians in Victoria’s public libraries. Australian Library Journal, 52(4). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20040531090722/http://www.alia.org.au/publishing/alj/52.4/full.text/mcquigg.html
  • Playforth, S. (2004). Inclusive library services for deaf people: an overview from the social model perspective. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 21, 54-57.

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