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Using American Sign Language in the Library

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 7/12/2012

The following article describes some helpful ASL vocabulary for use by students, patrons, and researchers in the library. Also included is a printable download of the signs as described in the article.

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    Library ASL

    Students, patrons, and researchers who use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication must learn specific vocabulary to communicate successfully in the library setting. For example, ASL signers must use different signs to inquire about different sources such as books, journals, and encyclopedias. The following section provides descriptions of the motions used for various signs needed by ASL signers in the library.

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    book – Begin with the hands at chest level with palms together and the fingers pointing forward. Open the hands with a motion resembling the opening of a book.

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    Useful ASL Library Vocabulary

    almanac – First make the sign for book. Second make fists with both hands. Rotate the fists around each other away from the body at chest level. Third place all but the index fingers on the palms of both hands. Hold the hands with the palms facing the body. Shake the index fingers away from the body three times.

    art book – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand into an I with the pinky extended up, the other three fingers on the palm, and the thumb across the index, middle, and ring fingers. Use the right hand to draw a Z on the left palm with the right pinky. Then make the sign for book.

    article – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand into a half circle with the fingers curving down and the thumb curving up. Place the right hand at chin height. Swipe the right hand past the left hand to the waist with the fingertips facing the palm of the left hand.

    author – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand with the thumb and index finger touching and the other three fingers on the palm. Use the right hand to mimic writing on the left hand. Then begin with the right and left hands at the right and left shoulders with the palms facing each other. Drop the hands from the shoulders down to the waist.

    bibliography – First turn the upper body toward the right and make the sign for book. Leave both hands with the fingers together. Second use the right hand to touch the left hand with the right pinky in a motion resembling pointing at lines on a page.

    dictionary – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand into a D with the right index finger extended up and the other three fingers touching the thumb. Swipe the right hand over the left hand toward the body with a motion resembling the turning of pages.

    encyclopedia – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand into a claw with the tips of the thumb and the finger touching the palm. The palm of the right hand faces the body. Swipe the right hand over the left hand toward the body with a motion resembling the turning of pages.

    fiction – Begin with the right index finger extended up, the right fingers curled onto the right palm, and the right thumb touching the right middle finger. Swipe the right index finger past the nose twice.

    history book – Begin with the left hand in a fist with the palm facing down at waist height. Shape the right hand with the index and middle finger touching and extended, the ring finger and pinkie on the palm, and the thumb touching the ring finger and pinky. Face the right palm toward the body and swipe the right hand over the left first twice. Make the sign for book.

    information – Begin with the right arm at an angle over the chest with the right hand at ear level. The right palm faces backward and the right fingers point backward. Hold the upper left arm against the body. Angle the lower left arm up with the left hand touching the right elbow. The left palm faces the body and the left fingers point toward the body. Move both arms forward and open the hands with the fingers spread and the palms facing backward.

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    More Library ASL

    journal – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Shape the right hand with the thumb and index finger touching and the other three fingers on the palm. Touch the right index finger to the lips. Then use the right hand to mimic two lines of writing on the left hand.

    library – Begin with the right hand at chest level. Form the right hand into an L with the index finger pointing up, the thumb facing left, and the other three fingers curled down onto the palm. Circle the L in a clockwise circle.

    literature book – First begin with the right index and middle fingers extended in a V and the other three fingers bent down. Use the right hand to draw a Z on the left palm with the index and middle fingers. Second hold both hands at chest level with the fingers together and extended and the thumbs also extended. Hold the right hand closer to the body. Touch the palms of the hands together and pull the hands apart while touching the fingers to the thumbs. Then move the left hand closer to the body. Repeat touching the palms of the hands together and pulling the hands apart while touching the fingers to the thumbs. Third make the sign for book.

    magazine – Begin with the left hand in front of the chin with the palm facing toward the right. Place the right index finger on the top of the left hand and the right thumb on the palm of the left hand. Place the other three fingers of the right hand on the right palm. Move the right thumb and index finger from the wrist to the top of the fingers twice.

    map – Begin with the hands at forehead level with the index, middle, and ring fingers together and extended and the thumbs and pinkies folded over the palms and touching. The tips of the index fingers on both hands touch. The palms face forward. Move the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left. Then move both hands down to waist height. Finally move both hands toward the center. (The hands form a large square.)

    research – Begin with the left hand at chest level with the palm facing toward the body and the left thumb pointing up. Curl the right hand into a fist with the right index finger extended. Touch the right index finger to the right cheek. Move the right index finger to the left palm and swipe the right index finger across the left palm away from the body five times.

    search – Begin with the eyes squinted. Shape both hands into wide half circles with the fingers curving down and the thumbs curving up. Circle the hands in front of the face.

    shelf – Begin with the hands at chest level with the palms facing down, the fingers pointing forward, the thumbs tucked onto the palms, and the index fingers touching. Move the right hand toward the right and the left hand toward the left.

    title – Begin with the right hand in front of the right shoulder and the left hand in front of the left shoulder. Fold the ring fingers and pinkies onto the palms. Place the thumb on top of the ring fingers and pinkies. Hold the index and middle fingers straight up to form a V. Bend the index and middle fingers twice with a motion resembling quotation marks while moving the hands slightly toward the center of the body.

    yearbook – First begin with both hands in fists. Circle the fists away from the body in front of the chest. Second make the sign for book.

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    Downloadable Vocabulary Sheet

    The accompanying printable vocabulary sheet of ASL vocabulary for use in the library is available for download at In the Library ASL Vocabulary Sheet.