The Maryland Deaf Culture Digital Library

David Payne and Julie Dina, hosts of MCPL’s Library Matters podcast, interview Susan Cohen, Coordinator, Maryland Deaf Culture Digital Library (DCDL). The DCDL is a first-stop information center that provides Maryland residents access to online resources on Deaf culture, information about Deaf cultural programs, and training programs for library staff.

David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters.  I’m David Payne.

Julie Dina: And I’m Julie Dina.

David Payne: We are here to learn more about the Maryland the Deaf Culture Digital Library, otherwise known as DCDL.  Over the years, Montgomery County Public Libraries has been an extensive provider of services to the deaf and hard of hearing communities.  And as a result, a few years ago MCPL was chosen to manage the statewide Deaf Culture Digital Library, a very exciting project. 

And joining us today to talk about the DCDL and her role with it is Susan Cohen.  Susan is the Head of Adult Services at Germantown Library, but also manages to find time to combine that role with being the Coordinator of the Deaf Culture Digital Library.  So welcome Susan. 

I was involved with the DCDL several years ago as public library representative of its advisory board.  So I’m very, very pleased to be able to talk with you about it in this blog.

David Payne: Tell us a little about the Maryland DCDL. What is Maryland DCDL?  What’s its history and how did it come about?  Whose initiative was it to start the Maryland DCDL?

Susan Cohen: The Maryland Deaf Culture Digital Library is the first stop information center on deaf cultures and deaf resources for all library customers and staff throughout the State of Maryland.  The goal is to provide all customers equal access to deaf culture information in a cost effective and efficient manner through each county library system, academic libraries and government libraries. DCDL also has an active Library Advisory Board, where most of the membership is deaf and hard of hearing.  We partner or collaborate with stakeholders to help bring library services to communities statewide. In addition, we offer training for library staff.

This service is the result of the Maryland State law and is one of the many initiatives of the Maryland State Library.  The Maryland State Library awarded the contract to Montgomery County Public Libraries to host, develop, and manage the services statewide.  Montgomery County Public Libraries was selected because of its long history of providing library and information services to the deaf and hard of hearing community in our area.

David Payne: Thank you Susan.  Just to go back to the state law that you mentioned, and I have a couple of follow-up questions.  When did the state law come about and really how long did it take to get, the state law passed?  When was the first thinking about the DCDL?

Susan Cohen: The credit for the concept of DCDL goes to Alice Hagemeyer, Silver Spring Library resident and long-time advocate for the Deaf Community, to have equal access to library services, and numerous advocates, who lobbied for this law. Ms. Hagemeyer is the president and founder of the Friends of Library for Deaf Action (FOLDA).

In 2012 during the regular session of the Maryland General Assembly, a bill was passed to establish a task force to study the feasibility of establishing the Deaf Culture Digital Library. In 2013, an eleven-member task force submitted a report with recommendations to the Governor on the Deaf Culture Digital Library. The law was passed and signed by former Governor O’Malley on May 15, 2014.  This year was the fifth anniversary of the effective date of the law.   

David Payne: So how can one access the DCDL?

Susan Cohen: As a digital service, library customers can access Maryland DCDL through its current website, temporarily hosted on the MCPL website. We’re basically a clearing house of online resources or in other words, an aggregator of online resources. 

For example, library customers will be able to find a list of ASL classes offered by various County library systems or schools, ASL Conversation Clubs and a list of organizations that provide services to the deaf and hard of hearing community. 

And as another example, library customers will also find links to resources on topics such as history of TTYs, audism, Deaf President Now movement, and much more.

Library customers of Maryland county library systems, who participate in Overdrive, can also use their library cards to download e-books on deaf cultures through the Maryland DCDL’s collection. This collection includes e-books that cover topics related to Deaf history, American Sign Language, Deaf Literature, Deaf arts and much more.

Library cardholders can also download through Overdrive over 130 streaming children’s stories, told in American Sign Language and spoken English with captions.

David Payne: Very, very comprehensive then.  It’s wonderful. Thank you.Julie Dina: Wow.  Susan, it seems like you do a lot, so can you then tell us what exactly your role is in the DCDL project as well as describe some of the work you’ve done so far?

Susan Cohen: As the coordinator of the DCDL, I provide the “nuts and bolts” leadership oversight of the program, which includes coordinating library programs statewide, developing the collections, outreach, networking, forming partnerships, project management of the new website, library staff training, and attending the Maryland DCDL Advisory Board meetings.  Most recently library staff and customers completed a survey that provided us with input to help us plan for the new website coming up, select materials to add to our e-book and streaming video collections, suggest Deaf culture related programs for various County library systems, cover outreach needs throughout the state of Maryland, identify partners for various projects, and develop training sessions for library staff.  

Julie Dina: And how long was the assessment for?

Susan Cohen: It took about two years.  The first year we focused on library staff, and the second year we opened it up to our library customers.  We received over 400 responses from library staff and over 300 responses from library customers statewide.

David Payne: So Susan, for our readers, perhaps you could clarify some terminology and explain what the difference is between Deafness with a large D, such as in Deaf culture and deafness with a small D and also the term hard of hearing.  And if you could also address what exactly does the DCDL cover?

Susan Cohen: Big “D” Deaf refers to people who were born deaf or became deaf before language was developed. They generally are part of Deaf Culture and are proud to be Deaf – it’s a central part of their identity.  Small “d” deaf refers to people who do not have an affiliation with Deaf Culture or the Deaf Community. For example, people who became deaf in adulthood or later years.   

I’d like to share a quote from a book that we own in our collection called, Deaf Culture: Exploring Deaf Communities in the United States.  It’s written by Irene W Leigh and two other co-authors.

In that book, it was noted that, “Deaf culture is a different way of looking at deaf people.  It legitimizes how they look at life, how they function, and how they define themselves, not by how hearing people define them.”  Another author mentions five hallmarks of Deaf Culture in a book that he wrote, called, Introduction to American Deaf Culture by Thomas K. Holcomb. The five hallmarks include information on language, heritage, customs, arts and family and cultural players. 

The scope of the DCDL’s e-collection currently includes the five hallmarks of Deaf culture as defined by Thomas K. Holcomb. We have materials that cover many periods in Deaf history in the United States and in other countries, biographies by Deaf writers, ASL as a language, Signed Languages in other countries and so much more.

Julie Dina: Well, I’m glad we had all of these clarifications, which leads to my question.  Are there any other collections in the area that also addresses Deafness with the capital D?

Susan Cohen: The Germantown library hosts a small collection of books and DVDs on deaf cultures which supplements the e-book collection DCDL has available through Overdrive. These materials can be borrowed by both Montgomery County Public Library cardholders and library cardholders from any other county systems participating in the statewide interlibrary loan program called Marina. Many other Maryland County library systems also have some materials on deaf cultures. We each do try to share what we have through the Inter County Library loan system, again called MARINA.

David Payne: Well, Susan, I know from my time serving on the advisory board that you connected with many people across the state.  Do you have any particular user testimonies that you recall about how people use the DCDL?

Susan Cohen: We recently had an author who was researching deaf communities in medieval times for a book that he was writing. Library staff have contacted us for recommendations of speakers and authors for programs they want to host at their library branch. Very often, we have people asking about ASL classes as well.

David Payne: And presumably you are getting a lot of connection and follow through with people outside Maryland as well?

Susan Cohen: We actually do, quite a bit, definitely.

David Payne: Wonderful.

Julie Dina: Well, Susan, since I am with the Outreach Team, I wanted to know the answer to this question in particular.  I am aware that you conduct the DCDL outreach across Maryland.  Now, can you tell us about some upcoming DCDL activities that you have planned for the future?

Susan Cohen: We not only help coordinate programs with County Library systems, we also help library systems publicize their programs to the Deaf Community, such as the one held on October 7 in Baltimore County Public Libraries.’ They hosted Deaf poet Willy Conley who introduced his book, Listening through the Bone on October 7.

There is a “programs” tab on the website where we do list all the programs and events hosted by Maryland County Library systems. They include American Sign Language classes, deaf author talks, and conversation clubs as well. We are working on plans for future programs and will announce via email as soon as plans are finalized.  Library customers can join our email list to receive announcements of upcoming programs.

David Payne: So Susan, I know you are involved in a number of larger projects with DCDL.  Can you tell us some of the other wider activities you are involved with right now?

Susan Cohen: We currently are working on our new website with Eyeth Studios, a Deaf woman owned web development company.  It’s a huge project.  We are working on larger scale marketing and working with our Library Advisory Board to recruit members for our new Friends group, so that they can begin fundraising for DCDL activities and initiatives.

David Payne: Thank you.

Julie Dina: Susan, can you tell us what’s your favorite DCDL resource and tell us why?

Susan Cohen: I have many, but to narrow it down to one, I would say my favorite resource is the e-books collection on deaf cultures as well as the streaming children’s videos in American Sign Language.  Both are available through Overdrive.  There are so many different and interesting titles in our collection and we are excited about making them available to our library users.

Julie Dina: Why is it your favorite?

Susan Cohen: With a library card, it’s easy to download e-books and there is a wide variety of interesting titles to choose from. We can read at our own pace, change the font size of the book, which makes it easier to read and we have the option to renew the title if there are no holds.

Julie Dina: Sounds wonderful.

David Payne: So Susan, with the founding and the success so far with the Maryland DCDL, I believe that other states have shown interest in following the Maryland model and starting a similar DCDL, is that correct?

Susan Cohen: Not yet, but yes.  Many states have shown an interest.  We‘ve heard from Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and several other states.  It’s actually very exciting to witness the growing interest and we look forward to sharing our experiences with them.  

David Payne: And would you know some of these other states following the same model with the collaboration with the state library?

Susan Cohen: That, I do not know, at this time, no.

David Payne: Okay.

Susan Cohen: I do know that many people in the community have spoken to their legislators and are trying to see how they can move forward on this, basically.

David Payne: That’s great.  Its’ been a great success story so far in Maryland.

Susan Cohen: Yes indeed.  Very much so, and for us yes, and hopefully for the community.

Julie Dina: Now, can you tell us about any programs going on at MCPL dealing specifically with the deaf culture or specifically for people who are deaf or hard of hearing?  Also I’m curious to know, does MCPL offer any sign language classes, books or resources?

Susan Cohen: MCPL has coordinated deaf author talks, book discussion programs in American Sign Language, performances in American Sign Language in spoken English, American Sign Language in English bilingual storytelling times and special speaker series on topics related to deaf culture. On October 5, Silver Spring Library hosted an ASL/English Preschool Storytime with a Deaf Storyteller, that was so well received. MCPL began an eight session ASL for Beginners class, beginning on October 27 at the Germantown Library.

The Germantown Library will host its next ASL/English bilingual storytime in February 2020 and the Howard County Public Libraries will be hosting a Black History Month program featuring a Deaf speaker, also in February 2020.

Deaf and hard of hearing persons who need accessibility services to attend library sponsored programs, can make the request online through the Montgomery County Public Libraries website.  Library customers can sign up to receive email notification of upcoming events and programs.

David Payne: So, Susan, for readers who may be interested in the Maryland DCDL, what are some of the ways for members of the public to get involved with the Maryland DCDL and the shaping of what you do?

Susan Cohen: The Maryland DCDL Advisory Board is looking for volunteer dues paying members who would like to help form the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, DCDL chapter.  We also welcome volunteers who can assist us in our outreach booth, help libraries set up for programs and clean up afterwards, help us get the word out about the program.  Anyone who is interested in volunteering can email us at

Julie Dina: Well, Susan, this is the part towards the end of the program where it’s traditional for us to ask our guests what they are currently reading.  So can you tell us what you are reading currently?

Susan Cohen: As a librarian, that’s actually my favorite question.  I am currently reading a book called, My life of Language: A Memoir by Paul W Ogden.  He is also the author of The Silent Garden: Raising Your Deaf Child, and his story is my story.  I was born Deaf to hearing parents.  Unlike the author’s parents though, my parents had never met a deaf person before I was born.  Like many parents who want the best for their child, they are hungry for knowledge to help make decisions such as how to communicate with me, whether it should be American Sign Language or through oral methods, where to send me to school, and so much more.

The author and I share similar experiences. I recommend this book to any parent who is seeking ideas and guidance in raising a Deaf child.  If you’re interested, My Life of Language is available both in print from some county library systems and in e-book form through Maryland’s DCDL collection in Overdrive.

Julie Dina: After hearing your story, I can see why it’s your favorite question.Well, I would like to say thank you to you, Susan, for the opportunity to share the highlights of Maryland DCDL today.

Thanks again for reading our blog today.  See you next time.