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Grad profile: A powerful voice

Posted by Kim Humes on June 15, 2020 in Students, Alumni & Friends

Master of Information (MI) graduate Elphege Bernard-Wesson has wanted to be a librarian since high school. “So, it’s pretty cool that I’m a librarian now!” she says.

Elphege (who goes by Ellie) started working as a student librarian assistant at the Patrick Power Library at Saint Mary’s University during her undergraduate studies. Just like other staff, she serves library patrons in many ways, from answering reference calls and locating resources, to collecting data, working on projects and creating policies. Unlike other staff, Ellie was born deaf and communicates primarily using American Sign Language (ASL).

“I communicate via sign language, email, writing on paper and texting with my co-workers”, explains Ellie. “I have ASL interpreters with me for important meetings, training workshops and reference desk shifts. Some of my co-workers also learned some basic sign language, which was really great!”

Ellie used many of the same tools in her master’s classes. Although close with her cohort, she realized many people really didn’t understand Deaf culture and the nuances behind ASL. She hosted several popular workshops to help fill those gaps. She also helped ensure the services at her job met the accessibility needs of particular groups of users.

“I could say that Ellie opens people’s eyes, but she really opens people’s ears,” says Jennifer Grek Martin (lecturer, School of Information Management, and Ellie’s thesis co-supervisor). “Opens them to the fact that there are millions of people worldwide who are (D)eaf, (d)eaf or hard of hearing. Mainstream societies privilege people who can hear. She kindly reminds us that not all accessibility issues look the same.”

Ellie wasn’t convinced she would do a thesis until she presented a research proposal poster in Grek Martin’s research methods class. Her thesis, entitled “Accessibility’s Impact on the Information Literacy of the Deaf Community” utilized interviews with participants from the Nova Scotia (d)eaf community outlining how they typically access, use and understand information. The results present a clear picture of the current information literacy skills of this community and the role they play in information literacy development. Ellie spent a great deal of time analyzing the data from these interviews.

“It was a tremendous pleasure to work with Ellie on her thesis,” says Dr. Sandra Toze (Director, School of Information Management and her other co-supervisor). “She was able to expand our understanding of information literacy to consider the experiences of those in (d)eaf communities. The depth of her analysis and commitment to include her participants were particularly noteworthy.”

Although the process was daunting, Ellie was determined to research the topic because it’s essential for the (d)eaf community. After graduating with her MI, she hopes to eventually complete a master of education, and continue her research into a PhD so that she can teach information literacy, Deaf culture, philosophy and information management in secondary and post-secondary schools.

For now, she will continue her work at the library, feeding her passion for helping people. “I love to help people with their research and teach them about what the library offers. My experience working in collections development in general is great, but I really love the education and literacy piece because I learn things at the same time!”

As Grek Martin says: “Ellie was actively engaged throughout her MI studies in student social and professional development activities and in class. She has the rare gift of seeing a problem, understanding the problem and then communicating it along with potential solutions. Through her I have learned about the richness and complexity of (D)eaf culture but also what hard work and persistence looks like. I am so excited to see what she will do next.”