John S. Hanson has been head of the NLS Music Section for only a few months, and he is already planning new and enhanced services. While some of these new music services parallel those being pursued by NLS for patrons of recorded and braille literary books, others have a different focus and form.
Hanson comes well qualified to his present position from the standpoint of both professional experience and lifelong activity in music. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and an M.Div. from Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota; he subsequently taught at Wellesley College and the University of Kansas. He also received an M.L.S. from the University of Maryland and served as director of the libraries at the Washington Theological Union and St. Mary's Seminary and University (in Baltimore, Maryland). In 2000 he came to NLS first as a contractor for reader services in the Music Section and then as assistant head prior to his permanent appointment.
The NLS music service program centers on a circulating collection of braille, large print scores, and recorded instructional materials about music and musicians. The section also compiles three music magazines in alternative formats. These services, like other NLS services, are available to residents of the United States and its territories and U.S. citizens living abroad who are unable to read standard print as a result of a temporary or permanent visual or physical disability. However, unlike the book service of braille and recorded materials that are distributed through the network of cooperating libraries around the country, music services are centralized and handled directly by the NLS Music Section in Washington, D.C.
Current music collections
Currently, the NLS special music collection comprises more than 30,000 braille and large-print music scores and texts, and instructional recordings about music and musicians on cassette. These materials range from elementary to advanced levels in complexity. Braille titles make up the largest portion of the collection. NLS recently embarked on a program to convert existing braille music scores to Web- Braille so they can be accessed electronically by eligible users over the Internet.
The large-print collection, which is smaller than the braille library, includes scores with at least 14-point type and one-inch staffs for voice, piano, and other instruments. Also included are books about music, librettos, biographies of popular and classical musicians, general music histories, and some music reference works. The cassette collection contains a variety of recorded titles covering music theory and appreciation, interviews and lectures, and instruction for voice and for various instruments such as guitar, piano, organ, recorder, and others.
A variety of magazines
In addition to these services, registered users of the music program may subscribe to six music magazines, three of them produced by the Music Section. The Musical Mainstream is a quarterly compilation of current articles on classical music and music education from national magazines. It is available in braille, Web-Braille, large print, and on cassette. Popular Music Lead Sheets, available in braille and Web- Braille, is a periodic collection of melodies, lyrics, and chords for popular songs ranging from golden oldies to recent hits. Contemporary Sound Track: A Review of Pop, Jazz, Rock, and Country is a bimonthly sampler on cassette of articles from national magazines.
Finally, the NLS Music Section publishes catalogs in large print and braille listing scores available for voice and various instruments, as well as circulars on special topics, such as opera librettos and Christmas music. It also maintains a page on the NLS web site providing news of the section, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast schedule, and notice of music circulars and catalogs available online. The NLS music collection is included in the NLS International Union Catalog on the Internet.
Plans for the future
Hanson's first priority for the future is to accelerate the conversion or digitization of existing braille music scores so they can be made available on Web-Braille. Digitizing involves scanning braille dots to create an ASCII DOS file, which is then proofread against the original and posted to the files on Web-Braille. This is his principal focus, Hanson explains, because the braille collection is large and contains many pieces in great demand, as well as many others in short supply or deteriorating condition. The conversion also supports braille music literacy by making scores readily available. While individuals can learn music by ear- -which, Hanson says, is perfectly acceptable--academic study and professional careers in music are greatly enhanced by the ability to read braille scores.
According to Hanson, music scores on Web-Braille provide several advantages. For patrons, the chief benefits are instant access and the ability to search for available music titles at any time and then download and save their selections. Thereafter, the selected titles can be read on a braille display or embossed. In short, digitizing braille scores enables much faster and more efficient delivery in response to requests--to patrons' delight. Another benefit is the ease of making copies on paper. Formerly the only copy medium was rough, heavy thermoform that many found difficult to handle. Furthermore, digital braille scores can be easily updated when necessary.
Digitizing also yields important benefits for NLS, Hanson notes. Above all, it permits preservation of the music collection through digital masters that require no shelf space and are not subject to the wear and tear of thermoform copying. Instead, fresh paper copies can be embossed from the digital file, providing braille scores on demand. Moreover, braille masters permit the reduction of excess thermoform copies currently on the shelf, thereby opening up space in a very crowded stack.
The NLS Music Section's digitization program is progressing well, but it still has a way to go. Eighteen months ago, about 300 scores out of 1,500 had been digitized by an outside contractor. Another 260 scores have been converted in-house since then, and Hanson hopes to equal, if not exceed, this rate in the coming year.
New digital materials
Digitization is also a key theme in new acquisitions. The Music Section now orders new braille transcriptions in digital format, with no more than a few paper copies. The same standard is being applied to large-print titles. In a recent order for twenty new large-print scores, the largest ever placed in a single year, the section requested one camera-ready paper master and a corresponding digital file to permit inexpensive reproduction on demand without burdening the shelves with ten or twenty copies.
With respect to procuring new braille music for the NLS collection, Hanson points out some challenges. First, very few places offer existing braille music that is not already in the NLS collection. In the United States, the National Braille Association is still a source, but the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) ceased braille music production a few years ago. As a result, NLS looks to the Danish National Library for the Blind, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Since the output of these agencies, while good, is not extensive, Hanson believes that NLS needs to establish--and reestablish--connections with other world sources of braille music and to encourage continuing production in the United States.
Shortage of transcribers
A second and related problem, especially for the production of new braille music, is the limited number of certified braille music transcribers to do the work. To address this dilemma, the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union recently established a task force under the leadership of Tuck Tinsley, president of APH, "to examine the status of braille music transcription in North America and to determine if there are practical strategies that can increase the capacity to produce it." Toward this end, the task force will develop a survey questionnaire to gather facts and make recommendations in a report due in spring 2004. Hanson is a task force member.
Meanwhile, to enhance the quality of NLS music services and better meet patron needs and desires, Hanson will undertake both an informal survey by phone and e-mail and a somewhat more formal survey on the NLS web site. A particular aim of these inquiries is to determine how NLS materials and resources are being used and accessed, especially Web-Braille files (whether they are read or embossed, what kinds of devices are used, etc.). Other questions will be explored as well. The surveys will also provide critical feedback to aid the development of future services.
The range of NLS music patrons is quite broad, from beginning piano and guitar students to accomplished musicians engaged in performance, advanced study, or teaching music. In between are many who simply want to learn more about music and its history and forms. Hanson seeks to shape the Music Section into a flexible and responsive unit to meet the needs of this diverse population.
[photo caption: Maisha Bartlett, Greg Adams, and Cornelia Frazier of the NLS Music Section look forward to increasingly effective customer service.
photo caption: NLS Music Section head John Hanson scans a piece of music for posting as Web-Braille.]
The Digital Long-Term Planning Group (DLTPG) held a three- day meeting at NLS on May 7 9, 2003--the fourth since its establishment in 2001--to review new and emerging technologies as well as NLS's planned transition to digital audio. The meeting was chaired by Robert McDermott, NLS automation officer.
At the opening session, participants reviewed their reflections since the last meeting and developments in their states; they emphasized severe financial constraints being faced by many libraries; they spoke enthusiastically of a variety of technologies that are improving access to the written word for blind individuals and also with frustration that the technological sophistication required to gain that access is beyond the reach of many patrons.
Pace of change considered
As in past meetings, the pace of change was a significant issue. There is a desire to increase the pace at which we make the technology available, both to give greater opportunities to patrons and to provide some relief to libraries in their workload. On the other hand, proceeding cautiously to avoid discouraging patrons who are not comfortable with the new technologies is important. The group stressed the need for versatile technology that can adapt to a range of abilities and desires. It was generally accepted that 2008 is a reasonable target date for the introduction of the digital talking book and that an earlier date is not feasible.
NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke made it clear that DTB development is on track for 2008. He pointed out that NLS is proceeding with digital recording, has begun testing the digital recording system in regional libraries in Texas and Montana, and will soon be able to recommend a digital recording system to network libraries. Cylke also underscored the advisory--not decision making--role of the DLTPG. It was formed, he said, to suggest areas of new technology for NLS to explore and to advise NLS on decisions regarding development of the DTB.
Margaret McGrory, executive director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) library, spoke about her agency's "leap off the diving board" with its ongoing project to create a digital repository and access system for its collection. The system is being undertaken in partnership with Microsoft Canada, IBM, and other private companies, which together have contributed over $8 million. CNIB plans to conduct a pilot test of the project in the last half of 2003 and plans to end production of analog titles in 2004.
The remainder of the meeting was given over to presentations by group members on various topics in digital technology. Animated discussion followed each presentation.
Control a necessity
Among the speakers, NLS research and development officer Michael Moodie outlined the key requirements and assumptions regarding players, media, distribution, and system basics of the DTB program. He emphasized particularly the need for stable player design. This prompted queries about why NLS cannot use commercially produced machines. Director Cylke pointed out that NLS cannot risk being locked into a proprietary design provided by one company that could go out of business at any time and leave NLS in an untenable position. He cited an example of this in another country. He also stressed that NLS must control the specifications for its machines--which are supplied to patrons and maintained free of charge--to make sure they can be repaired and kept in service.
McDermott provided an overview of the NLS technology program, and Moodie reviewed considerations affecting the choice of DTB medium; Recording Studio head Margie Goergen- Rood explained the Low Complexity Mastering System for DTB production; Materials Development Division chief Brad Kormann reported on the progress of the Digital Audio Development (DAD) project; Network Services Section head Steve Prine revisited issues involved in DTB book numbering; and Carolyn Sung, Network Division chief, led a discussion regarding the future role of reader advisors. As to ongoing NLS projects, updates were provided by Moodie on the latest developments in player design; by consumer relations officer Judy Dixon on a user survey to obtain demographic information about patrons that could help inform DTB decisions; and by Production Control Section head John Bryant on web magazine development.
View from the private sector
Eileen Hutton, president of the Audio Publishers Association and a vice president of Brilliance Audio in charge of intellectual property acquisition and management, gave a presentation on trends in commercial audio book publication. Among other things, she noted that most bestsellers and many other books are now published in audio formats, and that the number is growing all the time. Hutton also noted an important interrelationship between developments in the commercial audio book business and the auto industry, at a time when more Americans are spending more time in their cars than ever before. The ensuing discussion brought out both advantages and disadvantages of commercial audio books for blind and visually impaired readers.
Karen Odean reported on the progress of the "e-Audio!" pilot project recently launched by the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, in conjunction with Audible.com (a private Internet-based supplier of downloadable digital books), to provide digital audio books.
The next meeting of the group will be some time in late spring 2004.
[photo caption: NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke, Audio Publishers Association president Eileen Hutton, and NLS automation officer Robert McDermott]
Digital Long-Term Planning Group Attendees
- Consumer representatives
- Steven Booth (NFB)
- Paul Edwards (ACB)
- COSLA representatives
- Jim Scheppke (Oregon)
- Michael York (New Hampshire)
- Network representatives
- Gerald Buttars (Utah)
- Kim Charlson (Massachusetts)
- Barbara Goral (Colorado)
- Karen Keninger (Iowa)
- Karen Odean (Illinois)
- Deborah Toomey (New Jersey)
- Guynell Williams (South Carolina)
- NLS representatives
- Robert Axtell (head, Bibliographic Control Section)
- John Cookson (head, Engineering Section)
- Frank Kurt Cylke (director)
- Judith Dixon (consumer relations officer)
- Brad Kormann (chief, Materials Development Division)
- Robert McDermott (automation officer)
- Michael Moodie (research and development officer)
- Steve Prine (head, Network Services Section)
- Carolyn Sung (chief, Network Division
- Canadian representatives
- Margaret McGrory (CNIB)
- Irene Padillo (Toronto Library)
In celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Helen Keller's The Story of My Life, this important twentieth-century American autobiography was reissued by W.W. Norton in a restored and enhanced edition. The book has been selected for the NLS collection and is available in braille (BR 14704) and recorded (RC 55883) editions.
The new edition is subtitled the "Restored Classic" because it presents Keller's own story along with the accounts of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and her Radcliffe college tutor (and Sullivan's future husband), John Macy. The restoration arranges the interlocking narratives to accurately reflect the book's original composition and to clarify the specific role played by Macy in eliciting Keller's remarkable story. The new volume reinstates important elements of the original work, first published in 1903, that have been omitted in more recent popular editions. It also provides supplementary information and interpretation, including a foreword and afterword by editor Roger Shattuck, the eminent literary scholar, and a set of explanatory notes by coeditor Dorothy Herrmann, Keller's biographer. Herrmann's 1999 Helen Keller: A Life (RC 48038, BR 12198) is a detailed and candid overview of Keller's early life, career, and significance.
Shattuck hopes that the new edition will reclaim Keller's story as one that he maintains should stand next to "the epic of Odysseus finding his way home and to the tale of Alice exploring the mysteries and the revelations of her own imagination." Truncated and sentimentalized, Shattuck laments, much of the true richness and power of Keller's life history has been lost to a generation of readers to whom she has become merely a dispensable icon, if she is known at all.
The Norton reissue sparked an all-day symposium at NYU and, together with another centenary commemorative edition, edited by James Berger and published in the Modern Library, occasioned a lively review by Cynthia Ozick in The New Yorker, June 16/23, 2003, titled "What Helen Keller Saw." Ozick is fascinated especially with the bizarre charge of plagiarism leveled against the eleven-year-old Keller when a story called "The Frost King" that she had presented to the Perkins Institution's director Michael Anagnos as a gift was revealed--after Anagnos had made extravagant public claims about the girl--to have been written by a professional writer, previously published, and, presumably, signed into Keller's hand by one of her teachers. The bad feeling engendered by the accusations and counterclaims poisoned relations between Keller and Anagnos and between Anagnos and Anne Sullivan permanently.
Keller should perhaps have studied issues of intellectual property rights more diligently, but it was left to literary critic and historian Jim Swan to do this in his article, "Touching Words: Helen Keller, Plagiarism, Authorship" (in The Construction of Authorship, edited by Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi, Duke University Press, 1994), in which the Frost King incident becomes the centerpiece of a challenging exploration of the creation of intellectual property, of language acquisition, and of the very roots of culture as it is implanted in the developing human personality. Scholarly writers have made use of Keller before. She was used as a dramatic example by Walker Percy in an essay that speculates about the making of the cognitive link between words and things--the mysterious process by which human beings are able to construct and manipulate symbols that reference the world outside themselves--a process he calls "the Delta factor." In a 1990 issue of the Journal of American Folklore, Mac E. Barrick attributed the wave of cruel Helen Keller jokes to the selection of Keller as the scapegoat for a nondisabled middle-class beset by misgivings about federally mandated educational mainstreaming, occasioned especially by PL 94-142 of 1975.
Keller in schools today
A recent piece by Nara Schoenberg in the Chicago Tribune has suggested that, although the film version of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker has attained canonical status and the joke cycle continues to proliferate on the Internet, Keller's autobiography has been eclipsed in school curricula and on summer reading lists because evolving tastes and shifting concerns in public culture can find no time for her. Her writing style, formed in the late Victorian period and very much of that era in its deliberateness and ornamentation, and what Schoenberg describes as Keller's "relentless" wholesomeness are both out of phase with the tenor of a speed-crazed and cynical new millennium. Keller, who died in 1968, has faded in public memory, displaced by newer, timelier icons and interests, including a multiculturalist movement that has sought out new representatives from an expanded and more contemporary applicant pool.
The reissues have generated some renewed interest in Keller. Schoenberg and others have taken the opportunity to reevaluate Keller's place in history and to attempt an estimate of her contribution to American letters and thought. Though it is unlikely the new editions will spark a major Helen Keller revival, they will help to perpetuate an important American story and bring new readers to the agile and productive mind of this singular voyager.
[photo caption: Helen Keller (left) with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, around 1900.]
NLS will exhibit at nineteen conferences in fiscal year 2004 as part of its public outreach program. Exhibits are staffed by NLS and local network affiliates.
Conferences on the 2003 2004 exhibit schedule are listed below in order of occurrence. Each entry includes the organization name, place, and date.
|October 26 to 29||American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging||Denver, Colorado|
|November 5 to 8||National Association for the Education of Young Children||Chicago, Illinois|
|January 9 to 14||American Library Association Midwinter Conference||San Diego, California|
|February 11 to 15||Music Library Association||Washington, D.C.|
|February 24 to 28||Public Library Association||Seattle, Washington|
|March 19 to 24||International Vision Expo||New York, New York|
|April 16 to 18||Music Educators National Conference||Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|April 18 to 24||National Association for Activity Professionals||Scottsdale, Arizona|
|May 2 to 6||National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals||Rapid City, South Dakota|
|June 19 to 22||RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Association of North America)||Orlando, Florida|
|June 23 to 27||American Optometric Association||Orlando, Florida|
|June 24 to 30||American Library Association National Conference||Orlando, Florida|
|June 25 to 29||American Nurses Association||Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|June 29 to July 5||National Federation of the Blind||Atlanta, Georgia|
|July 3 to 10||American Council of the Blind||Birmingham, Alabama|
|July 13 to 19||Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired||Orlando, Florida|
|August 9 to 12||Blinded Veterans Association||Reno, Nevada|
|August 11 to 15||American Association of Diabetes Educators||Indianapolis, Indiana|
|August 27 to September 2||American Legion National Conference||Nashville, Tennessee|
by Joy Dickinson Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News, November 22, 2002
Robert "Bob" Langford, blind since he was a teenager, vividly recalls the first book he received from the Talking Book Program--an audio copy of Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage. "I remember getting that machine; I was so excited," Mr. Langford says with a chuckle. "It was a big turntable machine that used steel needles, and a single book took up two or three or four twelve-inch disks. The technology has come a long way; now I have a cassette machine, and I suspect in a few years it'll all be digital."
That first recorded book arrived in 1947, when Mr. Langford was sixteen. Back then, his home state of New Mexico didn't have its own Talking Book Program, so he used Colorado's. Now, through the auspices of the Library of Congress, all fifty states have Talking Book Programs; Texas was one of the first to join the national network.
Mr. Langford, a longtime Dallas resident and current president of the Texas Center for the Physically Impaired, is seventy-three and still a self-described "voracious" reader. His life, he says, has been immeasurably enriched through the Texas Talking Book Program, administered by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The program, free to users, provides books and magazines on tape, delivered to the user's door.
Mr. Langford, a happy customer for nearly six decades, personifies the goals of the Talking Book Program, says Roxanne Elder, public awareness coordinator. She just wishes there were more of him many more.
Talking books in Dallas
In the United States, the Library of Congress estimates that about 1.4 percent of the population is eligible for the program, but nationally less than 10 percent of those people are signed up. "In the Metropolitan Statistical Area that includes Dallas--that's the counties of Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Henderson, Hunt, Kaufman, and Rockwell--we estimate that there are about 46,000 people who'd be eligible for the Talking Book Program," Ms. Elder says.
"But we're only serving 2,886 individuals in the MSA Dallas area, with the majority of those in Dallas." Schools, nursing homes, and other institutions are also members, she adds.
The main problem with getting more users, Ms. Elder says, is the "general public perception that it's only for someone who's legally blind."
In fact, individuals qualify if they meet any of these criteria: they have prescription glasses, yet are unable to read standard print (newspaper size); have physical limitations that prevent them from holding books or turning pages, or if they are unable to do this for an extended period of time; are legally blind; have reading disabilities because of an organic dysfunction; have severe chemical allergies that prevent them from reading. Those with temporary disabilities can also qualify.
For instance, Ms. Elder notes, "If someone is going through chemotherapy and is very tired and literally can't hold a book, they'll qualify. So would someone in a severe car accident who had broken both arms. Or someone with dyslexia. We just had someone join who has a severe chemical allergy to the off-gases of ink in new books. That person qualified under a physical disability."
Potential clients with visual or physical disabilities can go to any public library and have the librarians certify the disability. Doctors must certify medical disabilities.
Funding in the Lone-Star State
Peggy Rudd, director of the Texas State Library and Archives, says about $1.2 million for the program comes out of the state's general revenue fund. The program also gets many gifts and donations, and the National Library Service provides the cassette machines and most of the recorded materials. [In 2003, NLS support in kind totaled $1,512,179, adding to an existing Library of Congress-supported book and machine inventory valued at $10,972,682.--Ed.]
Ava Smith, Talking Book Program director, says materials in Spanish make up only a small percentage of the materials available, but she'd love to increase that. However, she laments, "It's hard to get Spanish-speaking narrators nationwide and the problem is magnified because there are so many different dialects of Spanish."
Copyright is also an issue. The Talking Book Program has made arrangements with American publishers to record materials without infringing copyrights, but those agreements don't extend across international borders. Because of the copyright agreement, Talking Book Program users must get a special cassette machine from the program when they sign up. Talking Book materials will play correctly only on these machines because they're recorded at a different speed from traditional books on tape.
A huge variety of materials is available, Ms. Smith says, including some 80,000 titles housed in the Texas Talking Book warehouse in Austin. "We have everything except textbooks," says Ms. Elder, "and for those, we send them to Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic."
In addition to books, the program also offers some eighty national magazines, for both children and adults, including Newsweek, Texas Monthly, Texas Highways, and Sports Illustrated for Kids. Large-print musical scores are also available.
Reader consultants are available by phone to help users choose materials if they don't know a specific title or are, for instance, seeking out the latest mystery titles or a history of Texas.
The National Library Service records about 2,500 new titles per year--2.5 million copies--and the Texas Talking Book Program records about 50 to 100 new books each year at its Austin studio. All the states have interlibrary loan programs, so members can get anything any other state has. Most members check out about 40 books per year, Ms. Elder says.
Mr. Langford, always an overachiever, checks out about 20 per month, indulging in everything from Louis L'Amour (still a favorite) to computer tomes, travel essays, fiction, and biographies. His wife, who is sighted, also reads insatiably, and the two travel frequently to countries they have read about. They recently returned from two weeks in Japan, which he says were vastly enhanced by his ability to "read up" on the country first.
"It's allowed me to have a much more balanced, enriched life," Mr. Langford says of the Talking Book Program. "I can read and discuss the same things that my kids and friends are reading, which makes my relationships with them so much better."
That kind of gratitude is music to the ears of the program administrators. "That's what makes this so worthwhile," says Ms. Elder. "We've heard from people saying, 'My mother came out of a deep depression,' or 'Our dyslexic daughter is graduating from high school because of you.' It's really a great gift to be able to give someone."
Joy Dickinson is a freelance writer based in Corrales, New Mexico, and the author of several books, including Scarlett Slept Here: A Book-Lover's Guide to the South (2001), and Haunted City: An Unauthorized Guide to the Magical, Magnificent New Orleans of Anne Rice (1998). This article is reprinted with her permission.
[photo caption: Dallas patron Bob Langford relaxes at home with a talking book.]
Library consumers at the Washtenaw County Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had a special treat this spring and summer. John Fulton, Ann Arbor author and University of Michigan lecturer, conducted an eight-part workshop entitled "Contemporary Visions and Voices in the Short Story." At each session, Fulton read one or two stories and after each reading posed questions to facilitate discussion. He read stories written by a variety of authors including Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, Jamaica Kincaid, Tim O'Brien, Charles Baxter, and Bel Kaufman. The focus was on the short-short story and, at the last meeting, the group was introduced to the micro-short story.
The series, supported by a Michigan state grant through ArtServe Michigan, was enthusiastically received by library patrons. As many as thirty people attended each session and almost everyone was an active participant in the discussion. Fulton commented to the group that their take on stories was often very different from that of his young students at the University of Michigan. He said he was often struck by the insights of the group and enjoyed the sessions as much as any of the participants.
The group was especially pleased with Fulton's fine reading abilities. Fulton says he became a writer because of fond memories of his mother reading out loud to him. He added that literature somehow comes alive with the human voice. Even when he reads silently to himself he imagines a voice speaking the words. As most readers of books produced for the NLS program know, reading is an art form in itself.
Fulton is the author of two books of fiction. His short story collection, Retribution, won the Southern Review Short Story Award for the best first collection of stories published in 2001. His novel, More than Enough, was a Fall 2002 Barnes and Noble Discover Great Writers selection and a 2002 2003 finalist for the Society of Midland Authors Award. His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award and have appeared in numerous national and international literary magazines, such as The Southern Review, Zoetrop, and Oxford America. Currently, Fulton is working on a new novel. He recently accepted a position at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
This article was submitted by Margaret Wolfe, librarian coordinator, Washtenaw County Library for the Blind & Physically Disabled, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
[photo caption: John Fulton (right) conducts workshop with literary patrons from Ann Arbor.]
After a visit last summer to the South Carolina Braille Production Center (SCBPC) in the Leath Correctional Facility at Greenwood, Nancy Lacewell, director of government and community affairs for the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (APH), offered the facility assistance in speeding up the progress of its braille production program. The program is currently plagued by delays in the training of new transcribers and in obtaining braille certification.
The braille production program at Leath is one of the latest to be established at a prison site. According to an APH survey in 2002, twenty-three such programs are currently operating in correctional facilities across the United States. They have been set up to help meet a critical need for more braille transcribers, especially braille textbook transcribers, as well as to provide inmates with job skills and future employment opportunities. Each of the programs requires training and then testing of participating inmates for competency in literary braille transcription. This is accomplished through completion of a course developed by NLS and administered through the Braille Development Section.
At the Leath facility, which houses only female prisoners, there are currently five transcribers-in- training, four inmates and one staff member. While all are reported to be enthusiastic about learning braille, most are discouraged by the seemingly inordinate amount of time required to become certified in braille transcription by NLS. One problem has been a long wait from the date the trainees' braille lessons are sent out for review and the date the lessons are returned to the trainees for correction. Another related drawback is a paucity of proofreading support from qualified braillists.
To ameliorate these difficulties, Lacewell committed the services of two expert APH proofreaders willing to correct the Leath trainees' braille lessons and send them back as quickly as possible. This arrangement will permit trainees to send more than one lesson at a time. Lacewell believes the APH proofreaders will be able to assess the trainees' competence through the correction process, as well as provide them with valuable and timely feedback.
Lacewell expects that the current Leath trainees will become sufficiently proficient to start producing quality braille for blind students in the near future. She has recommended a target date of January 2004 for them to submit braille manuscripts to NLS for final review and evaluation prior to certification.