The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) will welcome six important visitors from Russia and Eastern Europe as part of the Network Library Program of the Open Society Institute in Budapest, Hungary, in April.
The six have been selected to participate in the Visiting Fellows Program, initiated by Dr. Billington in 1992 in cooperation with the philanthropist George Soros and the Soros Foundation. The six librarians will work at NLS.
The foundation sponsors programs dedicated to strengthening fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, through the Open Society Institute. The Library of Congress is a valuable partner in this effort because of its dedication to the free flow of information among all American citizens - - a goal that program participants are working toward in their home countries.
The eighth group of visiting fellows was assembled through a lengthy, detailed screening process. Librarians and information specialists were encouraged to apply to overseas offices of the Open Society Institute. Applications for the 2001 program were received from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. After English-language tests and interviews, reviewers forwarded 22 applications to the Library of Congress and NLS for final selection. Applications this year were screened in particular for interest and experience in library service for blind individuals and for the determination and ability to share new insights in this field with others.
Members of the NLS committee for this project are Linda Redmond, head of the Reference Section, chair; Vivian Crump, assistant to the chief in the Materials Development Division, logistics coordinator; Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer; Steven Prine, head of the Network Services Section; Carolyn Sung, chief of the Network Division; and Frank Kurt Cylke, director of NLS. Besides handling the selection process, committee members are responsible for program planning and monitoring activities.
Busy Schedule and Daunting Itinerary
The eight-week program will begin with an introduction to NLS and agencies that serve blind and physically handicapped individuals in the Washington area, as well as to the Library of Congress. The visitors will gain firsthand experience in NLS operations, and they will participate in a workshop given by a faculty consultant who specializes in library services to blind and handicapped readers. A four-week work assignment at NLS will include time dedicated to training and expanding Internet access for library applications.
In May, the contingent will travel to four other cities -- Baltimore; Princeton, N.J.; New York City; and Watertown, Mass. These cities were chosen in part because of the dynamic organizations in the field of information services for blind or handicapped citizens in each locale. For example, the group will visit the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, a consumer organization; Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, a private-sector recording group, in Princeton; and the American Foundation for the Blind, an advocacy group and recording contractor for NLS, in New York City. In Watertown the Perkins School for the Blind will welcome the visitors with a tour of its library and facilities. The group will visit regional libraries in three of the four areas. During the final days of the program, the group will return to the Library of Congress to review their experiences and to consider ways to incorporate them into library service management at home.
Diverse Backgrounds and Interests
The 2001 Soros Foundation-Library of Congress visiting fellows are:
- Nana Merabi Alexidze, program coordinator at the Disabled Persons and Veterans Assistance and Employment Union in Tbilisi, Georgia. This nongovernmental organization was founded in 1995 to enable blind and disabled individuals to assess and improve their job skills. The Union also helps its members find appropriate jobs and has established several small manufacturing plants that employ Union members.
- Galina Sergeevna Elfimova, head of the Foreign Literature Section at the Russian State Library for the Blind in Moscow. This is the country's largest library for visually impaired readers, the center of a network of 72 specialized libraries for the blind. The Moscow library's collections of more than 1 million items serves more than 15,000 print-handicapped visitors each year, with braille, recorded and large-print volumes. The library also has a recording studio for the production of talking books.
- Alexander Mikhaylovich Kungurov, librarian-in-chief at the Sverdlovsk Regional Library for the Blind in Yekaterinburg -- the third largest library for the blind in Russia (after those in Moscow and St. Petersburg). The library serves nearly 5,000 patrons who have visual impairments or other disabilities. Its collections contain more than 55,000 audio recordings and 26,000 other items. Current programs emphasize expanding the library's outreach to local libraries and broadening the use of computers and electronic texts to facilitate the flow of information.
- Olga Leonidovna Kuznetsova, chief of the Publishing Department at the St. Petersburg State Library for the Blind, the largest such library in the northwestern region of Russia. The library serves some 11,000 readers with collections of 400,000 volumes in recorded, large-print and braille formats. The institution also conducts research in the field of specialized library services and is expanding its automated systems of cataloging and communication.
- Vladimira Sykorova, consultant at the Library and Printing House for the Blind in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. The Library and Printing House's annual production includes at least 50 textbooks and music scores in braille and 100 recorded books. These items are loaned free of charge to about 7,100 registered patrons, most of whom are in Prague.
- Daniela Tóthová, librarian at the University Library in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic. As the national library and leading academic library in the country, the University Library is expanding its services to blind and physically handicapped patrons by organizing seminars on ways to improve access to information for all citizens in this new democracy. The library is also exploring ways to improve interlibrary loan practices and to expand its collections of large-print publications.
For further information contact: Robert E. Fistick, Head, Publications and Media Section, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20542; telephone (202) 707-9279; fax: (202) 707- 0712; e-mail: [email protected]