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This article gives an overview of past and present library services to, and policies about, deaf people. The unique properties of the deaf community are discussed. Recent developments in deaf studies, library services for deaf people, and laws affecting library services to deaf people are discussed. The roles librarians and libraries can play in providing library services to, and developing policies for, the deaf community are described.
In order that libraries and information networks successfully reach out to all Americans, it is necessary for the American Library Association (ALA) and its divisions to develop guidelines or standards to assist library policymakers. The American Library Association Handbook of Organization and Membership Directory, 1991 (ALA, 1992) has a list of over eighty ALA documents that are concerned with the needs of various interest groups, from children to older adults, to prisoners, to clients at residential mental health facilities, to Hispanics, to the blind and physically handicapped, and to many other interest groups. Recently, a group of ALA members has begun to discuss library policies regarding the deaf community in the United States.
Formal education of deaf people has been practiced in the United States since April 15, 1817, when the first permanent school for deaf children and young
adults opened in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1864, Congress voted to authorize the Board of Directors of the Columbia
The educational needs of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals continue into higher education. Librarians in institutes of higher education will find more deaf and hearing-impaired students on campus due to recent legislation. With an increase in the number of deaf students, librarians will need to be prepared to meet the communication challenge of bibliographic instruction to students who rely on nonaural means of learning. Melanie Norton's article discusses some of the methods used in teaching students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf to use the library effectively and suggests ways that librarians in mainstreamed institutions of higher education can apply these techniques.
The New York State Library in Albany, New York, has a rich history in serving people who are deaf. On the occasion of Thomas H. Gallaudet's 200th birthday, the New York State Library prepared an exhibit and published a bibliography related to deafness. Audrey Smith and Paul Mercer share their program and bibliography with other librarians who may want to use the program as a model to create exhibits and promote deaf awareness in their own communities.
In 1987, the Roundtable for Libraries Serving Special Populations, a subcommittee of the New York Library Association (NYLA), published Guidelines for Libraries Serving Persons with a Hearing Impairment or Visual Impairment. Permission was given to the editors of this issue to reprint these guidelines. Librarians can use the guidelines and the questionnaire to assess their library service to the hearing-impaired population.
"Our responsibility as librarians is to make our library resources, whatever they are, as available to persons with disabilities as they are to those without disabilities" (Jones, 1991, p. 479). Recent legislation will require libraries to conform to laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination and that mandate the availability of a library's services to the disabled. "Very few American libraries are likely to be in compliance with the requirements of the ADA when it becomes effective" (Gunde, 1991, p. 809). The editors hope this issue of Library Trends will help librarians make use of existing resources and perhaps learn new ways to adapt or augment existing services to the needs of people who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind "to grant and confirm such degrees in the liberal arts and sciences as are usually granted and conferred in colleges." Five years late, in 1869, the first class of three deaf men received a college degree from this institution, then called the National Deaf-Mute College (later Gallaudet College and presently Gallaudet University). However, it took the American Library Association nearly a century before its members recognized the lack of library and information services for deaf persons (here, "deaf" refers to all people with hearing disability).
At ALA's Centennial Conference in June 1976, this author, along with the two other librarians from the District of Columbia Public Library, approached the ALA Executive Board about locating an appropriate division to include deaf needs. After a lengthy discussion, the board "decided to accommodate the group in a small ad hoc committee in order to allow it to function immediately as an official unit" (Berry et al., 1976, p. 1704).
In 1978, a separate unit within ALA, focusing on deaf people, was formally established; the Library Services to the Deaf Forum (LSDF) is one of the several forums of the Library Services to Special Populations Section (LSSPS) within the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of ALA.
Differences Between Deaf and Blind People
There have often been comparisons between deaf and blind people whenever issues have arisen about the lack of resources for deaf people. Helen Keller has been quoted by many sources as having said that being deaf is worse than being blind. Many deaf people would not agree with her. However, it is a fact that blind people are kept away from things while deaf people are separated from other people.
For instance, when comparing library resources for blind persons and those individuals who are deaf, it is noted that there are federal funds available to provide quality library services to blind people but none for deaf people. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) was established by an act of Congress in 1931 to serve blind adults, including those blind people who also have a hearing disability. The program was expanded in 1952 to include individuals with physical impairments that prevent the reading of standard print. ASCLA (1984) has also published The Revised Standards and Guidelines of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Because of the ability to hear and speak the same language as the general public and also to use regular telephones, blind people have little problem gaining knowledge on any subject. They also have successfully convinced Congress of their needs; many blind people are lawyers and judges who know who to contact for information about …