Submitted by Stephanie Shipman, Youth Librarian, Austin Public Library and Karen Brown, Parent Infant Program Teacher – Texas School for the Deaf

Austin, Texas is known for many things – the state capital, home of the University of Texas, Live Music Capital of the World. It is also home of the Texas School for the Deaf, a residential and day school program serving Deaf and hard of hearing students, birth through 22 years.  In order to serve families of young children within the large deaf community in Austin, the Twin Oaks Branch of Austin Public Library has instituted a program called StorySign. 

StorySign is a sign language storytime for deaf and hearing families. A deaf storyteller signs the stories while an interpreter voices for the hearing. The program is a collaboration between Austin Public Library (APL) and the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD). Austin Public Library provides the location, materials, and staff.  TSD provides the storyteller and interpreter. 

How StorySign came about.                                                                                                                                 

Karen Brown, a teacher at TSD, approached the library with the idea of having some sort of program specifically for Austin’s deaf population. The goals of this program would be to encourage deaf parents to participate in activities with their children, introduce them to the library, and foster a feeling of community among deaf and hearing people alike. She also explained to library staff that children do better in school when parents and caregivers are involved in activities with their children. We know all children love stories, so a sign language storytime seemed the perfect fit to accomplish these goals.

The Twin Oaks Branch is located near TSD and library staff members were excited about implementing this program. Ms. Brown offered parents and caregivers the opportunity to take on the responsibility of getting their children and themselves to the library by scheduling the school day to encourage attendance at the library event. Austin Public Library provided flyers with the monthly dates listed and advertised the storytime on the Library website. A .pdf file of the flyer was also made available to TSD. 

Each storytime begins with a welcome and an opening song which is both voiced and signed. The program typically includes two stories, an interactive song or flannel activity, and a closing song. The youth librarian selects the books and songs each month and leads the storytime alongside the American Sign Language storyteller. An interpreter voices the story and signs for the librarian and families as needed. Everyone then participates in a small craft activity. Everyone works together, sharing materials, and communicating as they can. 

Attendees include hearing children with deaf parents (CODAs), hearing parents with deaf children, deaf parents with deaf children, and hearing parents with hearing children. At times students who are learning sign language in school come to observe and practice their skills. As the children’s librarian in the project , it’s been amazing to watch all the interaction. Parents observe their children having fun as they develop language, confidence, and social skills in a safe, fun environment. 

StorySign has been and continues to be a successful program that promotes interaction among deaf and hearing members of our community. Deaf parents have the opportunity to be involved with the Library in a way they have not had before while hearing participants have the opportunity to learn a few more signs each time. StorySign encourages a life-long relationship with the Library and sends a signal to the entire community that the Austin Public Library is a place for everyone.