When Tonia Gatton downloaded the digital talking-book version of “Charlotte’s Web” to her home computer, she knew she was going to read a classic of children’s literature. What she didn’t know was that she was also making history.
Gatton’s talking-book selection marked the 1 millionth piece of reading material delivered by the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service, a new initiative from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress.
Formally launched on April 30, 2009, BARD quickly became popular. Today more than 15,000 of NLS’s more than 800,000 patrons are registered for access.
“We’re gratified by the passionate response BARD has received,” said NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke. “At NLS, we strive to continually improve our patrons’ opportunities to access a wide range of reading material. BARD has been an unequaled success in speeding delivery to our patrons.”
Gatton, an NLS patron from Kentucky, selected “Charlotte’s Web” from among more than 18,000 titles currently available through BARD. In the past, NLS patrons would have had to wait for E.B. White’s children’s classic to arrive in the mail. BARD allowed Gatton to download a digital version for immediate playback.
Gatton is a rehabilitation teacher at the Kentucky Office for the Blind. She has been an NLS patron for more than 25 years.
“Finally having instant access to thousands of books and magazines that I can download and read as desired, rather than waiting and hoping for new books to come in the mail, has been an incredible experience,” said Gatton. “I’ve recently started going back and reading a lot of the classics that I either hadn’t read or didn’t appreciate as a child, such as ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ After only a little over a year of using BARD, I can’t imagine what I did without it.”
The next stage in BARD’s development is to transfer administrative control from NLS to state and local libraries serving blind and physically handicapped readers. The Kentucky Talking Book Library, from which Gatton receives services, assumed responsibility for administering BARD to its patrons in March.
“Our patrons are enthusiastic about BARD. Some of the more computer-literate readers have switched exclusively to downloading since the option became available,” said Barbara Penegor, branch manager of the Kentucky Talking Book Library. “We are ready to become more directly involved in the service and excited to learn that this milestone occurred so close to our assuming full responsibility for the download activity.”
NLS administers the free library program that loans materials to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of visual or physical handicaps. Materials loaned include braille and recorded books and magazines, music scores in braille and large print, and specifically designed playback equipment. The 121 network libraries—throughout the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands—provide direct service to eligible individuals and institutions. Eligible American citizens living abroad are also able to participate in the NLS program. For more information about NLS, visit www.loc.gov/nls/.