d/Deaf Culture and Community in LIS: A Q&A with Dr. Mary Bolin
Published: April 20, 2022 by Guadalupe Martinez
In recognition of Deaf History Month, Dr. Mary Bolin shares her insights as a dedicated advocate for d/Deaf patrons and library professionals. Throughout the interview, you will note the shifting capitalization of ‘D’ in Deaf or lowercase ‘d’ in deaf. The choice to toggle between letter case, and the way in which one identifies along the spectrum of hearing loss, is deeply personal and varies from individual to individual. To embrace this spectrum of identity, the following text will express the community and culture as d/Deaf where applicable.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
In your own words, tell us who you are and what drew you to your career in LIS and working with d/Deaf communities.
I have been a librarian for more than 40 years and have worked in libraries since I was a university student. Cataloging is where my heart is, and I’ve always worked in cataloging, metadata, and technical services. I have degrees in linguistics and have studied several spoken languages. In 2014, when I was Chair of Technical Services at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, we hired a librarian who is Deaf. She had interpreters and other ways of communicating, but I became interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL) and I have been studying it ever since. I’ve also had a number of iSchool students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
How can iSchool graduate students support d/Deaf communities and culture?
I think it’s important to be aware of the d/Deaf community and gain some understanding of d/Deaf culture. There are d/Deaf people in every community, and they are as diverse as any other group of people. They have information needs and it’s important for librarians to understand access issues faced by people in the d/Deaf community.
What kind of resources, programs, or skill sets are most valuable to serve d/Deaf communities?
Certainly, captioning of video recordings, transcripts of audio recordings, and similar things are essential for access. Learning some basic ASL is an inclusive practice. There are lots of online resources for learning ASL. Many of them are free or low-cost.
What values or priorities do you believe are important to champion when working for and with disabled communities?
It’s important to recognize that we are one human family with the same goals, dreams, ambitions, and needs, but that there are many aspects of diversity as well, and that we can meet the needs of diverse communities by continuously learning and listening and being open to the needs and experiences of others. d/Deaf people bring “Deaf Gain” (assets) to hearing people and are valuable colleagues and friends.
As an experienced librarian and instructor, what are your insights into trends and best practices for advancing accessibility in LIS?
I often think about it from the cataloging perspective: considering what aspects of cataloging and metadata might be a barrier for users, might be oppressive or biased in some way, and so on. It’s good to put ourselves in the place of library users and think about what barriers to access and inclusion exist.