Hearing Loops Improve Library Experience

Libraries are known to be quiet places. Most people immediately start whispering when they step through the door, while the shushing librarian is a common stereotype.

But for those who are hard of hearing, being able to hear a presenter or the librarian behind the desk is crucial to a favorable library experience. As librarians, we believe that libraries should be accessible for everyone, including those who are hard of hearing.

Waukesha County libraries have installed hearing loops

Hearing Loop sign at Waukesha Public Library

This is why many Waukesha County libraries have installed hearing loops in their meeting rooms and at their service desks. To date, the public libraries in Brookfield, Delafield, Elm Grove, Menomonee Falls, Mukwonago, Muskego, New Berlin, Oconomowoc, Pewaukee, and Waukesha all have some type of hearing loop available to any visitor who may be hard of hearing.

A hearing loop is a sound system that transfers sound from a microphone or TV directly to a hearing device or cochlear implant. Headsets are also available for anyone who does not have a hearing device.

“I had to help our libraries get hearing loops”

Angela Meyers, the Inclusive Services Coordinator for the Bridges Library System, first learned about hearing loops at a training for librarians in 2014. The librarians had the chance to test the hearing loop system by wearing demo hearing aids; after Angela was fitted with them, the presenter spoke into a microphone. “It was like the sound was coming directly into my ears, but without the background noise. I could focus on what the speaker was saying,” she says. “I came back from that information session a changed person. I had to help our libraries get hearing loops installed at their service desks and in their meeting rooms.”

When Angela approached the public libraries in Waukesha County about this idea, the response was overwhelming. “Everyone deserves a library they are able to use fully, comfortably, and easily. So when we learned what a difference a hearing loop makes for people with hearing impairment, we were eager to do it,” says Betsy Bleck, director at Oconomowoc Public Library.

Grant helps fund library hearing loops

In 2014 and 2015, the Bridges Library System received a grant with Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds to install the hearing loops and the libraries came up with a portion of the cost for equipment and installation. A few not covered in the grant got theirs through private funding.

A diagram of a hearing loop

“They have made programs more enjoyable”

Waukesha Public Library installed two hearing loops- one in their Community Room and circulation desk. “We feel it’s important to have them so anyone with hearing loss can easily use our services and feel included in the community,” says Kori Hall, Head of Program Development & Community Engagement at the library.

At Brookfield Public Library, Public Services Manager Cathy Tuttrup says that the hearing loop “made all the difference” for a woman who attended a class at the library. In fact, “she came to the class because she saw that we had the loop.” Another visitor to the Brookfield library uses the hearing loop regularly when he and his wife attend programs there. According to his wife, “they have made the programs much more enjoyable for him.”

Find more information about hearing loops

If you or a loved one are interested in using the hearing loop at one of the libraries listed above, ask a librarian or look for the Hearing Loop symbol on the library’s front door, desks, or entrance to the meeting room. You can find more information at www.bridgeslibrarysystem.org/hearing-loops.

Written by Jill Fuller. A version of this article appeared in the Waukesha Freeman and the Oconomowoc Enterprise. We will be sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.