Friday, January 22, 2010

Getting Started on Deaf Research: Part 1

So we survived the first week of Spring 2010! The first week of a semester is always pretty interesting, mostly because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong and the sheer number of things that can come up that have never come up before.

Adding to the interest of this week was The Futurist by James Othmer. It's a sort of funny novel about a guy who makes a living as a "futurist" -- basically someone who makes predictions on the next hot trend. If you've ever seen a video from TED or CES about "what's next" in terms of technological trends, you've seen a futurist talking. They make a lot of money giving talks to various conferences and corporate retreats, and so does the protagonist, who finds himself in Johannesburg, South Africa, about to give a presentation to a massive gathering of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, his girlfriend breaks up with him while he's on the plane to Johannesburg, so when he lands, he's begun to question what it's all about.

This leads to a keynote speech that is nothing like what anyone expected from him, which in turn leads to his involvement with a shady cabal of American corporate/military/governmental interests. They hire him to travel the world and eavesdrop on conversations about the United States, to sort of place his finger on the pulse of what the world thinks of America, and figure out ways to exploit it. There are a lot of complicated misadventures along the way, including encounters with an obsessive fan of Nostradamus, a version of Bill Gates who's holed up in Greenland so he can watch the ice break up, and a gay male model spy in the mold of Zoolander. However, when our main character decides to go off the reservation for a little while, things take a surprisingly nasty turn. It's somewhat thought-provoking, but is mostly a fun, escapist read. Quick, too -- finished it in two days.

Today, we'll keep it brief and just talk a little bit about the Deaf Research Help page on our Web site. Consider it a quick summary of what's available. I figured this would be helpful, because there really is a large amount of information in that part of the site alone.

For this week, I'm going to focus on one of the first links you will probably notice on the Deaf Research Help: Information about famous deaf people. This link will take you to a page that describes the Gallaudet University Library Guide to Deaf Biographies.

This is a fairly comprehensive database; it lists nearly every deaf person who's been mentioned in several different types of sources, from single-person biographies to newspaper clippings. It includes whatever biographical information can be gleaned from the source material, and cites the source. Once you see a source you'd like to see more of, you can scroll up to the top of the record, look for the "Sources" link, and click on it. In the list that comes up, look for the one you want, listed alphabetically by title. Once you find it, you'll also see the location (like "Deaf Stacks") and call number. For additional information not listed in the Guide, you can always look up the person's name in ALADIN Discovery and see if we hold anything else on him or her. It's a fantastic way to get a start on researching a particularly obscure deaf individual.

The Guide offers a few different ways to find information about famous deaf people.

First, you are able to browse by name, which will bring up a list of all the names in the database, alphabetized by last name. It's useful if you want to see if there's information about a particular family (such as the Gallaudet family) and on how many members. It's also helpful if you aren't sure you spelled your subject's name correctly, which happens to me often.

It's also possible to find people based on their nationalities or ethnicities; if you want to find out about famous deaf Canadians, for example, or famous deaf Native Americans (who are categorized by tribe), this is a great way to go about it. One curious thing: "nonhuman" is included in the list of nationalities. I bet you want to find out what that's about now.

Last, but certainly not least, the database is browsable by occupation, which includes everything from deaf astronomers to deaf zoologists. This is a pretty interesting capability by itself, but as you look through the list, you'll see jobs like "wallpaper designer" and "accomplice to a murderer." With occupations like these, how can you resist finding out what the stories are behind them? Luckily, the Guide to Deaf Biographies is here for you.

This database was created and maintained by librarian Tom Harrington, who has since retired, so the caveat here is that it hasn't been updated recently. However, as long as the person you're looking for didn't pop up in the last couple of years, it's still very accurate and useful.

Next week, we'll focus on another resource available through Deaf Research Help: The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Question of the Week
I'm a student, and I've seen other students working at the Library. How do I get a job at the Library?
Check this page out. It'll tell you everything you need to know.

Once you've completed and turned in your application, as well as any associated papers, wait. If there's a job opening available and you're qualified for it, we'll contact you for an interview. If not, your application will go on file until the next opening comes up. Just be patient!

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