Danica Rice is an archives technician at the National Archives at Seattle. The National Archives is participating in #DisabilityStories as part of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I have always seen myself as a bridge between two worlds, that of the Deaf and that of the Hearing. There are many purposes for bridges, but one is to connect and string two things, in this case two worlds, together.
My world is the Deaf, and has been since I was 18 months old. However, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to hear a good deal, speak reasonably clearly, and understand many nuances of the Hearing world. Make no mistake, the world of the Hearing and that of the Deaf are very different ones, but in some respects, much the same.
When I was growing up, I loved to read, and it became a lifeline of sorts for me, as I used it to explore new worlds, new ideas, new intellects. When I was feeling the very natural difficulties of being left out due to my hearing, reading became my escape.
When I was very young, my father took me to one of those old used bookstores, where books were squeezed in every available space, some on top of others, with rows upon rows of beautiful spines. I will never forget the day my dad pulled out a particularly aged volume and opened it to its center, explaining to me that old books have their own smell. Many a weekend and afternoons after school were spent in a wondrous bookstore (Bartlett Street Books in Medford, Oregon), owned by a kindhearted man named Ken Corliss, who had a shock of white hair and matching bushy mustache.
Words and images go hand in hand for me, as my language (ASL) is a very visual one, but the fact that I read so much, at such an early age, and still do, means that I have a unique perspective on what it means to be Deaf in a world full of words. Because of this, my passion became to help people understand my life, my culture.
I’ve written two books, yet to be published, but writing novels hasn’t been enough for me when it comes to my desire to cross that cultural bridge. So I have always explored ways to help people, which fuels my passion for promoting acceptance and understanding. When I was in college in Rochester, New York, I was offered the opportunity to work in Southern Oregon University’s Lenn and Dixie Hannon Library as an unpaid intern. There, I realized that my love for books, reading, language, and knowledge were innately relevant to the library world. I had found my home.
The following summer, I knew without a doubt that I wanted another library job, and needed an internship that paid. Before long, I was speaking with the head of the Rare Book Department of Harvard University’s Houghton Library and accepting a temporary cataloger position with a focus on cataloging Emily Dickinson’s (yes, THAT Emily Dickinson) personal library. These were the books she personally owned and handled on a daily basis. I had to flip through each individual page of her books, searching for inscriptions, notations, or objects pressed between the pages. At one point I held her heavily marked Bible in my bare hands, and I could FEEL the history coursing through my veins.
In that moment, I knew. I was destined to work with rare books and archives in some manner, shape, or form.
I took quite a winding path from the completion of my bachelor’s degree before I finally settled long enough to sign up for my master’s program in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. This is a completely online program, which suits my needs perfectly, as they provide captioning and transcripts for any auditory materials, which eliminates the need for interpreters or other tools that might be more cumbersome if I had enrolled in a “live” program.
Around this time, I was working for the Bureau of Reclamation, first in Yuma, Arizona, then in Boulder City, Nevada. While this was a vital stepping stone, I knew what my true dream job was, and that was to work for the National Archives.
I also knew that I wanted to return to my roots, the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised (in Southern Oregon). After many interviews, many rejections, and many false hopes, I was rewarded for my patience and given the gift of the position of archives technician, in Seattle, Washington, with the National Archives at Seattle, where I sit today.
Dreams really do come true.
Now I stand at this end of a bridge between many worlds—Deaf, Hearing, Archives, and Knowledge. I am doing everything I can to learn, and to build. My hope is that you will join me in learning and building these many worlds, as we all cross our mutual bridge, toward a shared Knowledge, in our choice of this noble profession, and perhaps best of all, in life as well.