Thursday, April 9, 2009

Library equipment

One of the nicest things about working at the Gallaudet University Library is that it's full of much more stuff than most people realize. Rooms of stuff, in fact.

For example, I sometimes see students coming in, taking a look at the public computers by the Service Desk, seeing that every single computer is taken, and walking right back out -- until I let them know about the Deaf Library Study Center and room 1404. Both rooms have additional computers for public use, but many students are not aware of them because they're tucked into a couple of the first floor's quieter corners.

1404, for instance, is out by the reference materials, near the windows facing the Peet side of the building. There are several computers in there, including one equipped with ZoomText, which magnifies the computer screen for those with visual disabilities, and a few TVs, DVD players, and VCRs. The interesting thing is that the room also contains an international VCR (which plays PAL format in addition to NTSC, which is used here in the United States) and a region-free DVD player (which means it can play any commercial DVD produced anywhere in the world, instead of just Region 1 DVDs for the United States). This means that we are not limited to US-only tapes and DVDs, which enhances the accessibility of our collection.

The Deaf Library Study Center, located down the hall opposite the women's restroom on the east side of the first floor (the side facing JSAC), is a bit less utilitarian. In addition to the computers and TV/VCR/DVD players, there is a 55-inch LCD HDTV hooked up to cable! That thing is beautiful.

The room also has some comfortable chairs and small tables that are ideal for curling up and studying in relative peace and quiet, and the TV/VCR/DVD players are set up in semi-private booths. I've seen more than one couple watching sob-stories with snacks in one of those booths -- and have been drawn by the hooting of college students cheering on their favorite team on the 55-incher. Both are totally fine; we welcome all Gallaudet students, faculty and staff, and encourage the respectful use of our facilities.

Outside of those two rooms, much of the equipment we have is focused on providing access for people with visual disabilities and making the academic experience more comfortable. One of the public computers in the open area of the first floor is also equipped with the ZoomText magnification software. In addition, there is a print magnifier available on the first floor, by the window just past 1404.

We also have headphones, remotes, and a small electronic handheld magnifier, all of which are available to borrow on reserve for two hours maximum. Study tables and carrels (like tables, but with little walls for more privacy and less distraction) are distributed around both the first floor and the basement. Those are freely available, first come, first served, to anyone who needs them. We also have even more TV/DVD/VCRs scattered around the first floor by the windows.

Ah, and the couches. There are several on both the first floor and basement, although those in the basement are less visible and better for relaxing with a good book (or stressing out with a textbook), although I have certainly found the odd catnapper from time to time.

Then there's the photocopy center. We have two copiers and a scanner, which is hooked up to its own computer, contained by a low counter right next to the Service Desk. You'll notice it by the bright red sign hanging over it. The interesting thing is that although making copies costs money -- 10 cents per page -- scanning is totally free. This way, you can scan whatever you need reproduced, save the image to your thumbdrive or e-mail it to yourself, and print it out from your computer at home for free.

The last thing -- and this is to make sure you keep reading to the end -- is the vending. We have a snack machine downstairs, along with a Coke vending machine. We do allow people to eat and drink in the Library, although we do ask that you avoid Coke showers and Chee-To confetti (in other words, don't make a mess and try to avoid damaging Library materials).

In general, we try to have a little something to meet everyone's needs, varied though those needs may be. Above all else, if you're just plain not sure, ask. There's always someone at the Service Desk who can either answer your question or help you find the person who can.

Question of the Week
Last week, I tried to find information on deafness and how Deaf people see better than hearing people, but the Library didn't have anything on that topic! Why did that happen?
The Library tries to be as comprehensive as possible when it comes to collecting deaf-related materials, in addition to meeting the needs of the student population with the general collection. That said, there are three possible reasons why you couldn't find anything:

1) Something may have gone awry with the search process -- maybe there was a synonym (a word that means the same thing as what you're looking for, like "eyesight" and "visual acuity" are synonyms) you didn't know could be used or you typed a little too quickly and misspelled a word without realizing it. The librarians here can help you with that and will usually be able to find what you're looking for. If not, it may be for the next two reasons.

2) Nobody's written about your topic. There hasn't been a study that focuses on whether the percentage of deaf people with 20/15 vision is higher than the percentage of hearing people with 20/15 vision. There may be some studies that come close, such as recent research by the University of Rochester that found slight differences in visual perception among deaf people, hearing people, and CODAs. Even though the idea that deaf people see better sounds as if it could be true, and is accepted as true by the deaf community, it isn't necessarily supported by research -- yet.

3) The conclusion you're looking for isn't stated explicitly. Frequently when doing research, you won't find anything that's clear-cut on one side or another. You'll need to read the article and make sure you understand the conclusion before you can say definitively that this article concludes something one way or another. For example, the University of Rochester study mentioned above concluded that deaf people process what they see a little differently from hearing people, but found little evidence that this difference is "better" or "worse" than how hearing people use their eyes.

If you can't find anything related to your topic, the reason is most likely one of these three. Also, don't forget, the Library tries to collect as many deaf-related materials as possible, but there is a lot out there. The ALADIN Catalog will tell you when an item has been ordered, but we buy materials from tiny, hard-to-find publishers from all over the world. Because of that, things need time to work their way through the system, especially materials from places as far-flung as Norway, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.

Again, if all else fails, ask a librarian!

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