Library Signs Resources

Want to learn some simple signs you can use to make serving Deaf patrons more successful?  Check out these resources!

Practice Videos by Kathy MacMillan on YouTube
Manners Signs
Library Signs 1
Library Signs 2
Library Signs 3

Library Signs Quiz Video

Library Signs Quiz Video Answer Sheet

Handouts to go with Practice Videos:
Library Signs (Vocabulary – Video 2)

Library Signs (Sentences – Videos 1 and 3)


Interested in more in-depth instruction on this topic? Check out my professional development eCourses from the American Library Association.

Seeing Voices

Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks. New Seeing Voices coverYork: HarperCollins, 1989.

There’s a reason this book is a classic in the field of Deaf Studies: Sacks weaves together history, linguistics, and a deep understanding of culture to create a compelling introduction to American Sign Language and Deaf culture for the uninitiated.

Developmental Milestones in American Sign Language

If you are signing with your baby, sometimes it can be hard to gauge your child’s progress since most language development benchmarks tend to focus on spoken language only.  The Ontario Infant Hearing Program offers comprehensive lists of developmental milestones from birth to 24 months in both sign language and spoken language on its website here.  This is a great tool to help parents and educators learn what to expect from their little signers at various ages!

How to Communicate with Someone who is Deaf

  • Don’t assume that every deaf person speechreads. Speechreading is a very difficult skill to master, and many deaf people don’t find it effective beyond common phrases such as “How are you?”
  • Keep your face and lips visible.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Make sure the deaf person is looking at you before you speak, sign, or gesture.
  • Speak naturally. Don’t exaggerate your mouth movements or speak too slowly. And don’t shout!
  • Be careful not to stand with your back to a window or other light source – this makes speechreading and getting information from facial expressions difficult.
  • Offer pen and paper to write notes back and forth, but be aware that English is a second language for many deaf people. When writing notes, use short sentences and plain language, and avoid idioms and slang.
  • Repeat the question to make sure you understand.
  • To get the attention of the deaf person, tap his or her shoulder or arm or wave in his or her line of sight.
  • ATTITUDE is the most important thing! Most deaf people will appreciate your efforts to communicate.

Signing with Young Children

Why Do It?

  • Children can learn to sign long before they have the ability to speak. Using sign language with your baby can reduce frustration for both of you. Your baby can tell you exactly what he wants!
  • Children exposed to sign language early in life will not only find it easy to learn ASL later, they will find it easier to learn ANY language later.
  • Early exposure to language may increase I.Q., social skills, and create deeper bonds between parent and child.
  • Sign language is not only good for your baby, it’s fun! And it’s not just for babies either – keep up the learning as your child begins to speak, and you and your child can develop a second language together.

Tips for Signing with Your Child

  • Teach the signs for everyday objects and activities first. Use the objects to reinforce the signs often, until your child begins to sign it back. Remember, they can understand you before they sign it back, so keeping using it.
  • If the child begins to sign back, reward him or her with lots of smiles and hugs and kisses.
  • Be consistent. Make sure you use the same sign each time for the same object.
  • Use your face. 80% of ASL is on your face and body, NOT your hands. The sign “HAPPY” doesn’t mean “happy” unless you’re smiling!
  • Accept your baby’s signing style. Babies won’t always make a sign correctly the first time they sign it, just like they won’t speak a word correctly the first time they speak it. Keep signing it the correct way and your baby will soon learn.
  • Reinforce signs throughout the day to help you both remember them. You can learn signs from books, though videos and live people are usually a lot easier. See the other side of this sheet for great resources to help you both learn.
  • There are lots of places to sign! You can use sign language at home, in the car, at the park, while reading stories. You can also make the signs in different places to help your baby understand. Sometimes sign it on her, on the book, or on yourself.
  • When using signs with your baby, it’s a good idea to use American Sign Language. There’s a big difference between American Sign Language, which is a whole language, and Signed English, which is just a manual code to represent English words. By using ASL, you’re giving your child (and yourself) a chance to learn another language!

ASL Resources for Educators and Librarians

ASL Access:

This non-profit organization’s website offers video/DVD reviews, articles, and links to many sources of information.

Come Sign With Us: Sign Language Activities for Children by Jan C. Hafer and Robert M. Wilson. (Gallaudet University, 2002)

This easy-to-follow book presents twenty lessons on basic sign language, broken down into easy chunks such as “Asking Questions” and “Saying Hello”, and accompanied by clear line drawings of the signs discussed.

Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy by Marilyn Daniels.  (Bergin and Garvey, 2001)

Daniels’ book demonstrates that American Sign Language isn’t just for deaf students.  Citing numerous research studies, many conducted by Daniels herself, this book gives solid evidence as to why and how ASL supports literacy in hearing children.  Best of all, Daniels offers practical strategies for use in the early elementary and preschool classroom.

Deaf Heritage: A Student Text and Workbook by Felicia Mode Alexander and Jack
R. Gannon. (NAD,1981)

This classic resource offers information on important deaf figures from the 1800s to 1980, and includes brief readings for students on deaf schools, ASL, the oral movement, deaf artists, sports, theatre, and writings by deaf authors.  Timelines help keep dates straight, and comprehension questions and follow-up activities appear at the end of the book.

Guidelines for Library Services to Deaf People 2nd Edition, Edited by
John Michael Day. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
IFLA Professional Reports, Nr. 62.

These guidelines are meant to inform librarians about the library and
information needs of deaf people.

“Hands-On Collection Building: A librarian offers tips for sign language materials selection.” by Kathy MacMillan. School Library Journal, March 2003.

A practical guide to evaluating and updating your library’s sign language

History Through Deaf Eyes edited by Cathryn Carroll.  (Gallaudet University,
Clerc Center, 2002)

Three young deaf students visit a deaf history exhibit, and learn about sign language and deaf history as the statues come to life.  From the prince of Lydia in the 6th century B.C.E. to more recent seminal figures such as Laurent Clerc and Helen Keller, this book presents the highlights of deaf history in an accessible way, without ever shying away from its uglier parts.

Inclusive library services for deaf people: an overview from the social model perspective by Sarah Playforth, Health Information & Libraries Journal, Volume 21, Issue Supplement s2, Version of Record online: 11 AUG 2004

An overview of ways to improve library service to deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons.

“Keep ‘Em Reading: Deaf History Month and ASL.” by Kathy MacMillan. Library
web resource, May 2006.

Recommended resources and activities for teaching about American Sign Language and deafness.

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center:

The premiere source of information about deafness online, with fact sheets,
teacher guides, information about assistive devices, and more.

Liven Up Baby and Toddler Programs with Sign Language

Handouts, videos, and information from an online workshop presented by Kathy MacMillan.

Sign to Learn: American Sign Language in the Early Childhood Classroom by Kirsten Dennis and Tressa Azpiri. (Redleaf Press, 2005)

A must for any preschool teacher serious about incorporating ASL into classroom activities.  Dennis and Azpiri write from their own experience of using ASL in the classroom, and, though neither is fluent in ASL, they share their detailed curriculum.  They provide a context for using the language by giving a basic introduction for beginners, then give copious lesson plans, on topics common to the early childhood classroom (weather, seasons, school, family, colors, community helpers, animals, feelings).

Try Your Hand at This!: Easy Ways to Incorporate Sign Language Into Your Programs by Kathy MacMillan. (Scarecrow Press, 2006)

This down-to-earth guide includes tips for using sign language in programs for any age group, along with background information about sign language and deafness, tips for improving your sign language collection and marketing to deaf and hearing audiences, and a section of ready-made programs complete with a visual glossary of storytime signs.

Library Signs Resources

Want to learn some simple signs you can use to make serving Deaf patrons more successful?  Check out these resources!

Practice Videos by Kathy MacMillan on YouTube
Manners Signs
Library Signs 1
Library Signs 2
Library Signs 3

Library Signs Quiz Video


Library Signs Quiz Video Answer Sheet

Handouts to go with Practice Videos:
Library Signs (Vocabulary – Video 2)

Library Signs (Sentences – Videos 1 and 3)

Deaf History and Culture Resources

The Deaf Community in America: History in the Making by Melvia and Ronald Nomeland (McFarland, 2011).

A comprehensive insider’s view of the development of the Deaf Community in America, by two Deaf authors.

Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.  (Harvard University Press, 1988).

This excellent book, written by two Deaf authors, illuminates the tension between the Deaf and hearing views of deafness.  An essential primer for any student of Deaf Culture.

Inside Deaf Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries. (Harvard University Press, 2006)

The authors trace the significant moments in the history of the American Deaf community, illuminating the efforts of Deaf Americans of all backgrounds to rise above the oppression and coercion they have faced at every turn.

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard by Nora Ellen Groce. (Harvard University Press, 1985)

Imagine living in a place where everyone signed, whether they were hearing or deaf.  For over 200 years, that’s how it was on Martha’s Vineyard, where many of the people were deaf, and participated in every aspect of life on the island.

My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language by Emily Arnold McCully. (Hyperion, 2008)

This excellent nonfiction picture book presents what is essentially the “creation story” of Deaf Culture in America.  McCully keeps the focus on young Alice, the girl who lost her hearing during a bout of spotted fever at the age of 2, and, by virtue of being the daughter of a wealthy doctor and philanthropist who happened to live next door to minister Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, inspired the advent of deaf education in the United States, and with it, the conditions that spawned American Sign Language.

See What I Mean: Differences Between Deaf and Hearing Cultures, 2nd edition (DVD; Eye to Eye Productions, 2009).

Presented by Thomas K. Holcomb & Anna Mindess, this funny and entertaining video clearly shows the differences between Deaf and hearing cultures, with a little help from “Miss Deaf Manners” and “Miss Hearing Manners”.

Victory Week by Walter P. Kelley.  Illustrated by Tony L. McGregor. (Deaf Life Press. 1998)

In language accessible to younger children, a child narrator tells the story of the 1988 “Deaf President Now” movement at Gallaudet University, which resulted in the appointment of Gallaudet’s first deaf president.

The Week the World Heard Gallaudet by Jack R. Gannon. (Gallaudet University Press, 1989)

An inspiring photo-history of the historic Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet, which led to the appointment of the first deaf president in the university’s history.

Children’s Novels About ASL and Deafness

Deaf Child Crossing by Marlee Matlin. (Simon and Schuster, 2002)

When Cindy, who is hearing, moves in down the street from Megan, who is deaf, the nine-year-olds quickly become best friends. Megan wears hearing aids and lip-reads, but the girls become even closer as Cindy begins to learn sign language. Problems crop up when her attempts to be helpful offend Megan’s sense of independence, and things get even worse at summer camp, where they meet another deaf girl, Lizzie.

Nobody’s Perfect by Marlee Matlin. (Simon and Schuster, 2002)

Megan can’t wait for her positively purple birthday party, but her perfect plans get derailed when a new girl, Alexis, joins her class and rebuffs Megan’s invitation and brushes off all of Megan’s attempts to be friendly.  When Megan teaches Alexis’s autistic brother some basic sign language, it opens up communication with both him and Alexis.

Leading Ladies by Marlee Matlin. (Simon and Schuster, 2007)

Rivalries abound when Megan’s fourth-grade class puts on a production of “The Wizard of Oz” and she has her heart set on playing Dorothy…but so does her friend Lizzie.

Gaps in Stone Walls by John Neufeld. (Athenuem, 1996)

In the late 19th century, hereditary deafness affected at least 1/5 of the population of Chilmark, a town on Martha’s Vineyard. Among this group is Merry Skiffe, an artistic 12-year-old whose peaceful life unravels when wealthy miser Ned Nickerson is murdered on a dark road one Saturday night and Merry finds herself among the four residents of Chilmark who have no alibi.

Apple is my Sign by Mary Riskind. (Houghton Mifflin, 1981)

A 10-year-old boy returns to his parents’ apple farm for the holidays after his first term at a school for the deaf in Philadelphia.


ASL Resources for Teens and Adults

Beginning American Sign Language Videocourse, Volumes 1-15 (Sign Enhancers, 1991, 1992)

This is a comprehensive videocourse designed for middle and high school students (and adults), but elementary students interested in ASL will find it just an enlightening and easy to follow.  Each video introduces new vocabulary, then shows an entirely signed segment with the “Bravo family” that uses the vocabulary and also introduces Deaf culture concepts in a seamless and entertaining fashion.

Communicating in Sign: Creative Ways to Learn American Sign Language by Diane Chambers (Fireside, 1998)

Especially appropriate for those who want to explore the language in-depth, this book offers vocabulary, grammar, ASL structure, and activities and games.

D-PAN Deaf Professional Arts Network – It’s Everybody’s Music, Volumes 1&2

American Sign Language videos of popular songs by The White Stripes, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more.  Videos are also available online at

Sign-Me-Fine by Laura Greene and Eva Barash Dicker. (Franklin Watts, 1995.)

This title goes beyond the basic information available in other books on sign
language to provide an in-depth examination of American Sign Language.