Building Bridges between the Worlds of the Deaf and Hearing, Archives and Knowledge

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.

Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.
Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.

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.

Danica Rice outside the National Archives in Seattle.
Danica Rice outside the National Archives at Seattle.

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.

4 thoughts on “Building Bridges between the Worlds of the Deaf and Hearing, Archives and Knowledge

  1. I’m proud to call this young woman my best friend. I’m beyond proud of her. I am so happy to have her up in Seattle and close by again!

  2. What an inspiring story, Hillary. I am forwarding it to my co-workers and two part-time assistants at the WY Outreach Library Services for the Deaf/HH here in Casper, WY.
    I am the Resource Librarian at this same library, which was retained when WY School for the Deaf was closed down in 1999. Like you, books and stories were my passion from a very young age. I had a profound hearing loss and wore powerful hearing aids to decipher the hearing world. I was educated in a small public school in Colorado, and befriended by the school librarian and town librarian. These two women taught me the art of being a librarian. Through them I also learned to chase down old books in the used books stores and at estate sales. Some smelled stale and musty of cigarette smoke, basements and mildew, but it was the spirituality contained within those covers that captivated me and I would cradle them in my arm to carry home and share with my family and friends.Now, retirement looms on my horizon, and I must find new homes for my collections of past interests. There are some that still have a place on shelves in my home. Knitting is also a passion of mine, and especially old pattern and technique books .
    If you would like to share more of yourself and stay in contact, please feel free to use my email.

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