Forward-looking network initiatives complement digital progress at NLS

As NLS moves forward in its efforts to develop digital recordings, equipment, and procedures that will one day become the mainstay of the free reading program, network libraries have likewise begun to look to the digital future, exploring projects and strategies on their own that will expand, enhance, or streamline local service provision. Libraries in Illinois and New Jersey have recently launched projects based in advanced electronic technology.

NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke commends these efforts. "Network librarians realize they're living in a digital world," he says. "A variety of cutting-edge projects and initiatives are emerging, according to the interests of regional libraries and the populations they serve. We are watching these undertakings with great interest, not only out of admiration for the creativity of our network librarians, but for what we can learn in our own march toward next-generation technology. We encourage participation in the digital world that is opening to people everywhere and is changing our basic conceptions of the acquisition and distribution of books for blind and physically handicapped readers."

Carolyn Sung, NLS Network Division chief, has observed that regional initiatives supplementing NLS service are part of a long tradition that has included patron newsletters, volunteer reading programs, radio reading service, braille transcription groups, the production of descriptive video, and the provision of assistive devices. "Volunteer recording at the regional level has been appreciated by many patrons over the years for the production of local-interest publications, textbooks, and other materials that don't fall within NLS's purview. And regional libraries, subregionals, and volunteer groups have often pointed the way forward for our service, through their participation in NLS committees and through their own independent efforts." A number of libraries have already set up digital recording studios to produce local-interest magazines and books and specialized reading materials such as textbooks and technical writing.

Network Services Section head Steve Prine concurs. "We're delighted to see network initiatives in the area of digital technology. Network efforts in this area supplement the materials NLS produces and make more titles available to NLS readers." (photo caption: Otis MP3 player and NLS digital talking book machine design competition winner "Dook," created by Lachezar Tsvetanov, University of Bridgeport.)

Mid-Illinois launches eAudio

The Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC), which has offices in Pekin and Quincy and is administered by the Alliance Library System, has announced the inauguration of the eAudio program for visually impaired readers in central Illinois. The service, launched in mid-January 2003, will provide digital audio books to patrons in conjunction with Audible.com, a private Internet-based provider of digital downloadable books.

The pilot project will offer current popular titles in copyright-secure CD-quality audio format on a portable digital audio player, Audible.com's Otis. The Otis players will be available for free loan from the Talking Book Center. Each Otis player will be loaded with two or three books and mailed to eligible readers for a six-week loan period, along with instructions, headphones, and a new battery. Braille instructions and telephone and e-mail help lines are available. Lori Bell, director of the MITBC, made a small initial selection of bestsellers from the Audible.com catalog, but looks forward to a more ambitious inventory. "My real goal is to have a collaborative collection with other libraries," she says. "We do not have a lot of money to put into this, so a shared collection would give our patrons more of a selection." Although efforts in this direction have not so far borne fruit, other talking-book libraries have expressed interest in the project, and wide-ranging possibilities will be explored.

MITBC also anticipates becoming a test site in its partnership with Audible.com to circulate digital audio books on memory cards. "No one is doing this yet," says Bell. "The memory card doubles the content you are able to put on a player. It's also a kind of generic, in that it should work with more than one type of handheld player--not just the Otis, but other MP3 players or a pocket PC. If this works out, we could circulate memory cards with several books on them to people who have their own players instead of having to invest in players to circulate also." Bell also has hopes for synthesized speech versions of the books available through Project Gutenberg, the daunting free Internet plain-text collection of world classics.

The eAudio program has been inaugurated as a memorial to Eileen Sheppard Meyer, MITBC's former director, using funds donated in her honor. Ms. Meyer devoted her entire professional career to talking-book library service, becoming director of the River Road Talking Book Center in Quincy, Illinois, in 1988 and of the MITBC in 1996. "Eileen worked with her colleagues to introduce a number of innovative services to benefit visually impaired readers, and we think she would be thrilled about this new service," says Valerie Wilford, executive director of the Alliance Library System, which administers MITBC.

In June 2003, an evaluative report based on a reader- satisfaction survey and follow-up interviews will be prepared and shared on the MITBC web site www.mitbc.org. The library will then review its options for continuing the service and make a determination about the future of eAudio. The report will be prepared by Tom Peters, an e-book expert and director of the Center for Library Initiatives, Committee on Institutional Cooperation.

eBooks and eBook players: problems and prospects Information on the Otis MP3 player and commercial offerings from Audible.com may be found at the Audible.com web site. In addition to borrowing materials from the library, individuals may purchase an Otis player and arrange book rental directly with the company if they wish. Visually impaired readers who use the Audible.com service to supplement their use of talking books have established a free electronic users group for the exchange of information, advice, tips, and support, which may be accessed at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BlindAudibleListeners/. The users group members describe, discuss, and recommend solutions to problems encountered in the use of these devices.

Many currently available commercial handheld MP3 players are difficult to use readily. Consumers are enthusiastic about their sound quality, storage capacity, and length of play on a single battery charge (ten hours or more), but still often voice reservations. These products are sometimes delicate--particularly in contrast with rugged NLS equipment--and sometimes malfunction capriciously, leaving users without remedy through online or telephone support service. Casings are easily damaged, and ports are exposed to weather or spills. How these players might respond to frequent "normal" handling by the postal service or survive falls remains to be seen.

The players have no amplifier or external speaker, requiring the use of a headset or wiring through other equipment. Navigation may require the use of a miniature visual display screen on the player and a small visually oriented dial, though members of the users group appear to be coping with these limitations. A speech synthesizing navigation assistant could be provided in principle, but would at this stage of development be costly and cumbersome. An adaptive tactile modification for the control dial is difficult to imagine (it would necessarily have to be larger than the unit itself). Adaptive devices such as extension levers, breath switch, or mouth stick are unavailable. In addition, the unit itself might be too small and lightweight for confident use by those patrons who require stability, sturdiness, and a low center of gravity in a playback unit.

New Jersey streams audio

The New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped has inaugurated an Internet service that makes newspapers and special-interest materials available to registered patrons. Audiovision Internet Streaming Service makes programs from the Audiovision Radio Reading Service available through a Windows Media streaming format--the process by which information is available as soon as it is read by the computer, converted, and uploaded. The data can be retrieved at any time and restarted at will. A live Audiovision broadcast with scheduled programming--similar to conventional radio--is also available.

The Trenton Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer are among the daily journals presented by Audiovision along with public service features such as grocery advertisements and daily television schedules.

Long-Term Planning Group meets

At NLS, the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, coordinated by NLS automation officer Bob McDermott, held its third meeting on November 6-8. McDermott welcomed the members, reiterating the presumption that the group would spend roughly half of its discussion time on digital talking books and half on other long-term issues related to new technologies and their impact, real or potential, on the service. The group is predicated on the inevitability of technological change and hopes to make a contribution to easing the processes of accommodation and transition by bringing a special focus on the complex relationships among technological developments, demographics, costs, and human intangibles. The group is attempting to think two decades into the future--an effort that is necessarily speculative and fraught with uncertainty.

Of immediate concern to the group at this meeting was the issue of "inventory-free operations" or bookless libraries--a barbed notion that provokes strong feelings. Advocates of an inventory-free scenario imagine a streamlined library service in which clumsy cassette machines and cassette containers have been all but eliminated, and patrons receive reading materials stored on small memory cards or over telephone lines from central electronic repositories. On the one hand, librarians and administrators are faced increasingly--and with no relief in sight--with fiscal stringency thrust upon them by state legislators and dwindling federal resources. Some argue that reduction of costs by phasing out expensive storage facilities and personnel-intensive mailroom operations is an attractive option. Others maintain that, on the other hand, successful working library systems, serving and satisfying thousands of patrons in their present state, must not be scuttled in the name of a utopian electronic vision whose value might prove hallucinatory. Librarians at all points along the spectrum of thinking about digital prospects recognize the human factors that are a crucial aspect of library service and not to be lost in the quest for expanded technological capabilities.

At the present moment, thinking toward the twenty-year horizon continually runs up against its own limitations. There are no certainties in the digital long view or guarantees of a particular outcome with respect to cost/benefit analyses. Every projected scenario seems sooner or later to conjure up its own opposite--or at least suggest a host of "what ifs" to consider.

Thus, no sooner are prospects tendered, seemingly within reach, of massive downloads over telephone lines and widespread use of miniaturized MP3 players, than concerns are voiced and unanswered questions raised: What about copyright law and postal regulations? What about the economic circumstances of patrons without computers and modems? What about the suitability of the available equipment for people who are blind, visually impaired, or physically disabled? Is cyberterrorism a danger that should be taken into account?

The Digital Long-Term Planning Group is diligently working to make its way over, around, and through these questions and to develop a plausible view of library service for the blind in the future. Its next meeting will be at NLS on May 7-9, 2003.

(photo caption: Members of the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, clockwise, from lower left: Gerald Buttars, Barbara Goral, Jim Scheppke, Kim Charlson, Karen Odean, Carolyn Sung, Steve Prine, Robert Axtell, David Whittall, Brad Kormann, Karen Keninger, Michael York, Steven Booth, Virginia Lowell, Guynell Williams, Michael Moodie, Lloyd Rasmussen, Frank Kurt Cylke, and Bob McDermott.)

Digital Long-Term Planning Group

Consumer Representatives
Mr. Steven Booth
National Federation of the Blind
Mr. Paul Edwards
American Council of the Blind
COSLA Representatives
Ms. Virginia Lowell, Hawaii State Public Library System
Mr. Jim Scheppke, Oregon State Library
Mr. Michael York, New Hampshire State Library
Network Representatives
Mr. Gerald Buttars, Program for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Utah State Library Division
Ms. Kim Charlson, Braille and Talking Book Library, Perkins School for the Blind; Watertown, Massachusetts
Ms. Barbara Goral, Colorado Talking Book Library
Mr. Michael Gunde, Florida Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services
Ms. Karen Keninger, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Iowa Department for the Blind
Ms. Karen Odean, Talking Book Center of Northwest Illinois
Ms. Deborah Toomey, New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped
Ms. Guynell Williams, Department for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, South Carolina State Library
Canada Representative
Ms. Margaret McGrory, Executive Director, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Library for the Blind

NLS alliance with Mystic Seaport confirmed for second year

The alliance between Mystic Seaport, Connecticut's famed seventy-four-year-old Museum of America and the Sea, with NLS and its network of cooperating libraries has been extended for a second year. The initiative, which began in January 2002, sought to advance accessibility and expand outreach for museum visitors who are blind, visually impaired, or disabled. Among the key elements in the initiative is the free library pass program available to NLS patrons. The pass entitles two adults and their children or grandchildren under eighteen free admission to Mystic Seaport on the day of the week specified on the pass. In 2002, 79 passes were issued by libraries, enabling visits by 184 adults and children. Feedback from patrons was overwhelmingly positive, and many visitors sent notes of appreciation.

The pass is available throughout the year except for the months of July and August. NLS patrons in Connecticut should contact the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Rocky Hill, Connecticut; patrons in Rhode Island should contact Talking Books Plus, in Providence, Rhode Island; and patrons in Massachusetts should contact the Braille and Talking Book Library in Watertown, Massachusetts, to arrange for their pass. Residents of all other states should contact NLS directly. See box for details.

Museum's rich resources

Mystic Seaport is a world-renowned not-for-profit educational institution occupying thirty-seven acres on the Mystic River, east of New London, Connecticut. The museum comprises not only sixty public buildings but also the largest watercraft collection in the United States, notably the Charles W. Morgan, the last American wooden whaler; the Joseph Conrad, an 1882 square-rigged training ship; the L.A. Dunton, a 1921 fishing schooner; and the Sabino, an operating 1908 steamboat. These prized historic vessels are maintained in a fully equipped restoration shipyard. Professional staff interpret a wealth of exhibits, special programs, and demonstrations of traditional nautical skills for the million and more annual visitors to the site.

The seaport itself consists of a superb collection of historic ships, period homes and businesses, a children's museum, a planetarium, and galleries set on a spectacular seventeen-acre waterfront site. The historic ships and buildings, gravel roads, and stone sidewalks that create Mystic Seaport's nineteenth-century atmosphere sometimes present barriers for visitors with disabilities. The experienced staff are working hard to provide easy access wherever possible and tailor their presentations and demonstrations to the special needs of all visitors. The museum publishes a brochure, "Guide to Access," that provides detailed information on the accessibility factors for each of the museum's forty-nine buildings, standing exhibits, ships, and other attractions. The brochure includes information on the type of entrance and the level of accessibility--graded as accessible to all visitors, of limited access, or of difficult access.

The Education Department of Mystic Seaport Museum offers a range of programs for groups. The programs can be designed to meet a variety of needs. Highlight tours are ninety-minute guided tours that can be general in nature with visits to featured exhibits, or with a specific focus selected, such as whaling, fishing, and nineteenth-century coastal community life. As part of Mystic's outreach programs, arrangements can be made for museum teachers, chanty singers, and costumed role players to present one-hour programs that may include singing, storytelling, and objects from the past. Please write or call Mystic Seaport Museum for more information and reservations for these and other programs. Mystic Seaport Museum, P.O. Box 6000, 75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic, CT 06355-0990; telephone 860-572-5315; toll- free 888-973-2767; TDD 860-572-5319. Visit Mystic Seaport's informative and entertaining web site at www.mysticseaport.org for more information, including accessibility details, membership information, directions, lodging, and more.

Books and other projects

During 2002, NLS identified a Mystic Seaport cookbook to become part of its collection of books in special format for blind and physically handicapped individuals. A New England Table, edited by Ainslie Turner (2000), has been digitally recorded in the NLS recording studio, narrated by Laura Giannarelli. The book will be released in audio cassette in the near future, featuring a multiple tone index system and a complete index on a separate cassette that will allow the reader to locate particular recipes efficiently. The files are under development as part of the NLS digital audio program to explore the complexities of full text and full audio synchronization in a Digital Talking Book.

Other collaborative efforts include audio production of eleven books published by Mystic Seaport, which will become part of its collection and will be made commercially available under the auspices of the Mystic Seaport shop. The books are America and the Sea: A Maritime History, by Andrew German, et al.; Folklore and the Sea, by Horace Beck; New England and the Sea, by Robert G. Albion, et al.; Saltwater Foodways, by Sandra Oliver; Whale Hunt, by Nelson Cole Haley; Around the World in 500 Days, by Curtis Dahl; Growing Up in a Shipyard, by Dana A. Story; All This and Sailing Too, by Olin J. Stephens; A Life in Boats, by Waldo Howland; Silas Talbot: Captain of Old Ironsides, by William M. Fowler; and Wake of the Coasters, by John F. Leavitt. NLS also reports progress in the production of alternative versions of the Mystic Seaport general handout and the access guide in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. When the translations are complete, braille versions will be furnished to the seaport for use by visitors, and collaboration will go forward in the creation of audio editions.

Paul O'Pecko, director of the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic, said last year that "Mystic Seaport is committed to developing awareness and extending its programs to all Americans. . . . We are pleased and honored to work with NLS on these important projects." NLS looks forward to another year of fruitful collaboration with the museum.

For a free library pass...

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a member of Mystic Seaport's association of public libraries, and as such is able to offer patrons use of a free one-day library pass. The pass entitles two adults and their children or grandchildren under 18 to free admission to Mystic Seaport on the day of the week specified on the pass. The pass will be sent to you by express delivery. After your visit, you will be asked to return the pass using a prepaid envelope. The pass is available throughout the year except for the months of July and August. Late spring and early fall are ideal times for a visit to Mystic. Connecticut patrons should contact the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, 800-842-4516; patrons in Rhode Island should contact Talking Books Plus, in Providence, Rhode Island, 800-734-5141; and patrons in Massachusetts should contact the Braille and Talking Book Library in Watertown, Massachusetts, 800-852-3133, to arrange for their pass.

Residents of all other states should contact NLS directly by sending an e-mail to eore@loc.gov, including your name, address, telephone number, and the date and day of the week you wish to visit the Seaport. Send your request at least six weeks in advance--more if possible. Patrons may also forward the information by mail but should be aware that mail delivery to NLS has been unpredictable for the past year and is expected to continue to be so for some time to come.

Mystic Pass Coordinator

Publications and Media Section
NLS/BPH
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542
e-mail: eore@loc.gov

Helen Keller to appear on new quarter

In March 2003, the United States Mint will begin circulation of the Alabama state quarter, featuring an emblazoned image of Helen Keller. The commemorative design selected by Alabama governor Don Siegelman will also be the first circulated coin to contain braille.

The quarter, designed by United States Mint engravers, will feature Helen Keller sitting in a chair reading a braille book. Her name in both print and braille will be to her right. Just below her image is the inscription "Spirit of Courage," which, according to Governor Siegelman, represents not only Keller's courage against adversity, but also Alabama's own struggles and triumphs.

Keller, a Tuscumbia, Alabama, native, was an author, educator, and advocate. She fell ill months short of her second birthday and was left blind and deaf. Five years later, under the tutelage of Anne Sullivan, Keller learned to understand a dark and silent world. Keller mastered the print and braille alphabets and soon after learned to speak English, French, and German.

Keller championed the rights of disabled and disenfranchised people whatever their circumstances. A vocal supporter of equal rights for all people regardless of race or gender, Keller is an often unacknowledged leader of the civil rights movement. Alabama's commemoration of Keller signifies the continuing impact of her life's achievements on our society.

The Alabama state quarter is the twenty-second coin of the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarter Program. The program celebrates the history of the country as each state, in order of its admission to the Union, is given its own quarter to design.

Braille International establishes community service grant program

Braille International, Inc. (BII), a not-for-profit organization serving blind and visually impaired individuals through the production of braille books and magazines, has announced the establishment of a community grant program. The goal is to award grants from $500 to $4,000 to programs that will make a permanent difference in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired, through education, rehabilitation, and/or employment. Those eligible for funding must serve blind and visually impaired people and be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code.

Grant applications will be accepted up to 4:00 p.m. on May 1, 2003. For complete information and an application, visit the BII web site at www.brailleintl.org or write James Redditt, President, Braille International, Inc., 3290 SE Slater Street, Stuart, FL 34997.

New name for Georgia regional library

As of July 2002, the Georgia Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped changed its name to the Georgia Library for Accessible Services, which may be easily referenced by the acronym GLASS.

According to Georgia regional librarian Linda Stetson, "This new name better reflects the broader mission of the Library to provide accessible library services to all Georgians, regardless of type of disability." The library is still at its same location,1150 Murphy Avenue SW, Atlanta, GA 30310, and may still be reached by telephone at 404-756- 4619 or 800-248-6701; web site: www.public.lib.ga.us/lbph

Florida celebrates Braille and Talking Book Library Day

"Come on along--sip some of that special Eatonville lemonade and let the monkeys come out your mouth!"

An audience of sixty-five gleefully accepted celebrated Florida author and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston's invitation at the first "Braille and Talking Book Library Day" on Monday, March 3, in the Don Weber room, Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services, Daytona Beach. Florida Humanities Council Chautauquan Phyllis McEwen headlined the free public celebration with her one-woman performance of Hurston at the height of her literary career circa 1938. Florida Division of Blind Services Legislative Affairs Director Kurt Ponchak addressed the importance of talking-book library services to people with print disabilities during opening remarks. The audience also received a library tour via the video "That All May Read," available on the web at: http://fcn.state.fl.us/dbs/tours/tours.html

Dressed in period costume, McEwen regaled the audience with anecdotes, stories, songs, and asides from Hurston's writing, research, and travels. McEwen also demonstrated characteristic wit and thorough knowledge of her subject's colorful life as she answered audience questions. Following a break for beverages and a slice of talking-book library birthday cake, Ms. McEwen shed her persona to discuss Hurston and her literary heritage with several audience members.

Braille and Talking Book Library Day marked the service's 72nd birthday. The Pratt-Smoot Act passed on March 3, 1931, established free library services for blind adults under Library of Congress administration. The print program included the Pratt-Smoot Act text and a brief biography of its congressional sponsors. A display of talking-book equipment from the 1940s to the 1970s, a sample of Braille and cassette books by and about Hurston from the library collection, and a Florida Humanities Council panel exhibit entitled "Remember the Women" complemented the feature presentation.

Subregional libraries in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Jacksonville, Clearwater, Cocoa, and Bradenton also held March 3 events. Subregional librarians reported excellent turnout for diverse programs that included live jazz, a lecture on local history, library tours, online catalog training, community partners recognition, and other enticements. "March 3 proved to be a catalyst for coordinated statewide outreach. We look forward to involving the entire Florida Network in 2004," said Bureau Chief Mike Gunde. The Bureau wishes to thank the Florida Humanities Council and Friends of Library Access, Inc., for their sponsorship and support. We are grateful as well to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for officially proclaiming March 3 Braille and Talking Book Library Day and recognizing the Florida Talking Book Library Network's contribution to literacy and an informed citizenry.

(photo caption: Phyllis McEwen portrays Zora Neale Hurston at Florida library gala.)

International book chat between Cleveland and Stoke-on-Trent

Using the Know It Now 24x7 reference service and chat room technology, readers with visual impairments from Stoke-on- Trent, in England, and readers from the Cleveland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Cleveland, Ohio, discussed an audio recording of The Slender Thread, by British romance writer Iris Bromige. Each group gathered around a personal computer and relayed their comments about the book, writer, and narrator, as well as other thoughts and questions, to the typist, who quickly keyed them in to the chat room. When the message appeared, a sighted reader read the comments aloud to the members. One of Cleveland's book club members was visiting her daughter in Cincinnati, but was still able to join in the book discussion via the chat room.

Laughs were abundant, and the discussion lasted far longer than a discussion about a light romance should have, but the readers from Cleveland wanted to know about special Christmas customs in England as well as what "wellies" are. Readers from Stoke-on-Trent were particularly interested in the Americans' thoughts about the book's narrator.

The participants feel they now have new reading friends across the Atlantic, and another discussion is planned for the spring.

(photo caption: Readers in Stoke-on-Trent chat by e-mail with readers in Cleveland.)

(photo caption: Clevelanders chat with new friends overseas.)

International briefs

Toronto, Canada

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) will begin construction of a new headquarters on Bayview Avenue in Toronto in April 2003. Completion of the project is scheduled for July 2004. The new building will showcase client services and a barrier-free design for the CNIB National and Ontario Divisions, the Toronto District Office, and the CNIB Library. It is funded mainly through the sale of twelve acres of land on the site. A move is necessary because of the deterioration of the current BakerWood building, which has been occupied by the CNIB since 1955.

Before construction begins, some staff and departments, including parts of the library such as the recording studio, will relocate to a temporary site in Toronto, while others will remain in the back of the BakerWood building. Mailing addresses and telephone numbers for all CNIB staff and departments will be unchanged and the service will remain vigorously "open for business" throughout the process.

Iran

Iran-e-Sepid, a reformist braille newspaper in Iran, is currently in its sixth year of publication and has increased its circulation to more than 4,000 readers. The newspaper, believed to be the only braille daily in the Middle East, finds itself confined by outdated technology, few established support systems for people who are blind, and a high rate of illiteracy among blind adults.

The goals of the paper include providing a general knowledge of current events and promoting the rights of blind individuals, which seem nonexistent to many.

Issues associated with blindness worldwide compounded with the strict religious position of the parliament and judiciary complicate the lives of blind Iranians. As a fundamentalist Muslim country, Iran discourages fraternization between men and women, which, some argue, keeps blind men and women from meeting. Similarly, Islamic law recognizes dogs as unclean, ultimately impeding the efforts of blind individuals to obtain guide dogs.

The ideology of the paper, whose name translates as "White Iran," is supportive of the reforms of President Mohammad Khatami. The editors are wary, though, as similar- minded publications have faced deep scrutiny from the hardliners in power. More than eighty reformist publications have been shut down in the past two years.

Tibet

The Project for the Blind, Tibet, recently changed its name to Braille without Borders. The organization was founded in 1998 to teach a Tibetan braille system developed by group founder Sabriye Tenberken. The Project for the Blind, Tibet, has been officially recognized by the government of China and expects to cede control to the Tibetan Disabled Person's Federation, a Chinese governmental organization. The organization's name change reflects its current goal to expand braille literacy beyond Tibet. Braille without Borders reports that talks are under way with contacts in Leh in Northern India and in Mongolia.

Tenberken, born in Germany in 1970, developed a retinal disease at age 2 and became blind at 13. Her recently published memoir My Path Leads to Tibet (Arcade: New York, 2002) has been selected for inclusion in the NLS collection.

France

The English Language Library for the Blind (ELLB) provides audio books for the cultural enrichment and leisure enjoyment of English-speaking blind and partially sighted people living outside the English-speaking world. The library began as a volunteer reading group sponsored by the Junior Guild of the American Cathedral in Paris, France, almost fifty years ago. Its initial purpose was to read schoolbooks aloud to blind children and to university students.

In the mid-sixties, this volunteer reading group started to make recordings for the blind, first on reel-to- reel tape, and then on audio cassettes. By the close of the 1970s, its activities were becoming more organized and independent, and on January 1, 1980, it officially became the English Language Library for the Blind.

ELLB is supported by donations and is a registered charity that does not receive government subsidies, relying entirely on support from organizations, companies, and private individuals. It is administered and maintained by unpaid volunteers, except for a modestly salaried director. Membership in the ELLB costs 53.50 francs a year (less than $10), allowing its members to borrow as many audio books at a time as they wish and keep them for a reasonable amount of time. To become a member of ELLB, a medical certificate verifying some degree of inability to read printed material is required.

Native English speakers narrate most of the books in the ELLB collection at home or in the Paris studio. These unpaid volunteers also duplicate cassettes, send books to members, process subscriptions, maintain a catalogue of 1,400 titles, record more than 200 new books annually, and negotiate copyright permissions. They also narrate books specifically requested by blind students and professionals. ELLB may be visited online at ellb.online.fr.

News editor Fitzpatrick departs NLS

Vicki Fitzpatrick, senior writer-editor in the NLS Publications and Media Section (PMS) and longtime editor of News, retired at the end of December 2002 after nearly twenty-five years with this agency. "Vicki Fitzpatrick has been a valued and trusted member of the NLS staff," says NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "She is a person of remarkable dedication and sterling integrity--hardworking, imaginative, and someone who always managed to cope, whatever the levels of stress. The standards she set for News and the other publications she worked with will be hard to maintain." In January 2003, Fitzpatrick was honored with a Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her extraordinary service and distinguished contribution to the Library of Congress and NLS.

Over the years she has been largely responsible for the management of book annotation practices at NLS, reviewing virtually all of the thousands of braille and audio book announcements published by NLS each year, cooperating closely with PMS and Collection Development Section staff, and providing ongoing training to supervisors, writers, and editors. Her expertise resulted in the authorship of the 1979 manual Creating an Annotation, which has set the standard at NLS for more than two decades. A revised and enlarged edition of this valued publication is currently in production. Creating an Annotation has been discovered and adopted by collection specialists in other agencies.

Fitzpatrick has been editor since the early 1980s of NLS's annual Cassette Books catalog, the biennial For Younger Readers catalogs, and many editions of the biennial Braille Books catalogs. She has edited and written for the quarterly News since 1980 and produced the occasional Projects and Experiments newsletter as well. She served as editor of the Dictionary of Braille Music Signs (1979), World Braille Usage (1990), and the International Yearbook of Library Service to Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals (1993). She supervised the 1983 and 2000 revisions of the Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing--for which, in 2000, she received a Library of Congress Special Achievement Award--and the forthcoming (2003) revision of Braille Music Transcription.

A New England native, Fitzpatrick graduated from Brown University (Phi Beta Kappa), where she studied English and American literature. She taught elementary and secondary school and raised two children before joining the federal government work force in 1977. Her high standards of editorial excellence, intelligence, and sound judgment have benefited NLS patrons for two decades; these qualities together with her patience, tact, and humor are of inestimable and enduring value to her coworkers.

(photo caption: Vicki Fitzpatrick)