The Sign Language eLibrary of Finland
The Finnish Association of the Deaf (FAD) is the administrator of the Sign Language eLibrary of Finland and the principal producer of the library materials. FAD is an advocacy, expert and service organization promoting the status of sign language and the equal opportunities of Deaf people in the areas of education, employment, social services and access to information.
The Sign Language eLibrary of Finland was officially launched on 30th October, 2014. All the resources in the library are in sign language and free of charge. The library produces its own materials. The website also serves as a portal to material produced in sign language by others. At the time of opening, the library consisted of about 250 videos and since then these have increased by 1-3 videos weekly. The majority of the material is either voiced over or subtitled into Finnish to enable accessibility to non-sign language users. The user interface is in both official languages of Finland, i.e. Finnish and Swedish. The library is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The address of the library is www.viittomakielinenkirjasto.fi.
The Library Act of Finland guarantees all citizens equal opportunities for e.g. civic skills and lifelong learning and the main objective of the eLibrary is to support the implementation of this law in relation to the Deaf population.
The purpose of the Sign Language eLibrary is to collect, produce and distribute resources in sign language, which are supplemented weekly taking into account the clients’ wishes, and to provide materials in a wide range of topics for both learning and entertainment purposes.
In the startup phase of the eLibrary, production focused particularly on sign language resources, using children because there was very little material available for them. Since the launch, theamount of material for children has increased significantly and user statistics show that it has found its audience with a big number of views. The production of children’s material has been partly done in cooperation with the Finnish Broadcasting Company and some of this production has been aired on TV.
The target was to develop a user friendly interface which would be easy to use and not require knowledge of a written language, to ensure that the eLibrary is accessible to children who cannot read and to migrants and foreigners who don’t know Finnish or Swedish. According to the feedback received, the eLibrary is particularly easy to use.
The Library Act also promotes the development of web services of libraries. Other libraries in Finland will include a link to the Sign Language eLibrary on their websites, and in the next phase the aim is to expand the shared material search service of all libraries to include also the Sign Language eLibrary. The Sign Language eLibrary has been accepted as part of the library network in Finland and it’s at the forefront of developing accessible online library services in the country.
Customers of the library were included in each phase. Representatives of the main potential user groups, including Deaf youths, elderly people and migrants, families of Deaf children, sign language teachers and others attended five planning workshops. The eLibrary was designed with the help of Deaf graphic artists who are also users of the service.
The aim is to bring the Sign Language eLibrary as close to its clients as possible and to be more like social media, where information is built up in interaction with its users.
The assessment of the eLibrary is done by analysing user statistics (Google Analytics) and by interviewing and collecting feedback from the users of the library. The eLibrary also carries out self-assessment through a user group which was established to support the library staff.
The Sign Language eLibrary is not a traditional project in the sense that it would have a clear end point when the development work, planning and building would be complete. This eLibrary is seen both by FAD and the Ministry of Education and Culture as a permanent web service. The eLibrary will develop along with new opportunities offered by technology and changes occurring in society, as well as with the wishes expressed by its customers. The emphasis is to produce materials for the Deaf, but in the future the aim is to take further into account people who are hard of hearing and cochlear implant users by further increasing the subtitling.
Some of the judges’ comments about this initiative were:
Great to see that this is also geared towards non-deaf community – big statement to make content accessible to wider audience and put the necessary resources into that
Positive approach – desire to get further training and learn how to do new things
Impressive to have so much available in sign-language in one place in such an attractive way. Admirable approach – recognise for example that they don’t have sufficient captions and want to build this in
Strong sustainability statement – wish to evolve and grow