NFB president delivers national conference address

Marc Maurer: Digital transition a "top priority"

NFB president Marc Maurer
NFB president Marc Maurer

"The literacy of blind people has provided a mechanism for the blind to gain inspiration and hope," Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, told attendees of the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, held in San Antonio, Texas, on May 4–11, 2008.

"A book in the hand today frequently means an act of courage in the future. This is what library service has meant to us—more reading, more recreation, more participation in community activities, more education, more employment, more contemplation of a brighter tomorrow, more building, more joy!" Maurer said. He also discussed the necessity of accelerating the transition to digital technology. "Historically the Library has been committed to ensuring that the best available long-term technology is incorporated in the production of materials. Today the transition to the digital talking book is a high priority."

More than two hundred librarians, library staff members, and vendors attended the event that was held at San Antonio’s historic St. Anthony Hotel. They received hands-on demonstrations of digital talking-book machines and cartridge prototypes, and examined preliminary copies of the Digital Talking-Book Player Library User Guide. NLS staffers discussed copy allotment quotas, plans for training, cataloging efforts, and the book-selection process.

Larry Johnson, author of Mexico by Touch, regaled the audience with stories from his book. He talked about growing up with blindness and learning to laugh at such experiences as being knocked off a bike by a charging dog, packing a lunch of a tasty but uncooked meatloaf, and driving down a highway being guided by a "good friend."

The father of six, Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree from the Northwestern University School of Speech and a master’s degree in Economics and Latin American studies from La Universidad de las Americas in Mexico City. His career accomplishments include serving as a human resource specialist and managing a human resources office. For twenty-two years, he worked as a disc jockey in the United States and Mexico, having had to first prove that his blindness would not hinder him from doing the job. Johnson concluded his remarks by thanking the librarians for their services.

Participants also heard from a panel of consumers of various ages and professions. Nicole Coby, a twenty-two-year-old college junior; Deborah Kendrick, an accomplished journalist and a columnist with the Cincinnati Enquirer; and John Masson, a retired National Park Service ranger from Boston, discussed how their library experiences enriched their lives and contributed to building character and developing aspirations. Explaining that braille is the foundation of literacy for blind people, Kendrick encouraged the librarians to "do what you can to promote braille." She applauded electronic access to reading materials, noting that "Web-Braille allows braille to be portable."

Conference participants traveled to Austin to tour the state capitol building. They viewed portraits of past governors, including President George W. Bush, which hang in the rotunda, and statues and portraits of legends like Stephen Austin, Davy Crockett, and Samuel Houston that are displayed in other parts of the building. Across the street at the Texas State Library and Archives, the attendees were given a rare view of the 1836 letter Col. William Barrett Travis sent from the Alamo requesting help.

Attendees also toured the Texas regional library’s warehouse, where they observed the mechanics of the library’s random-shelving system, in which books are tracked by scanning their book numbers and locations into a computer system. The system allows the library to maximize its shelving space.

Keystone Systems Inc. sponsored dinner at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, where conference participants were welcomed by director Betty Sue Flowers. She explained that the library—though built mostly with private funds—is part of the National Archives and Records Administration and one of twelve presidential libraries located throughout the country.

The next biennial conference will be held in Des Moines, Iowa.

More than 200 people attended the NLS National Conference
More than 200 people attended the NLS National Conference.

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Pittsburgh’s regional library is 2007 Network Library of the Year

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (Carnegie LBPH) was named the 2007 Network Library of the Year. NLS presented the award at a special luncheon in the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress on June 11, 2008.

Pittsburgh regional librarian Kathleen Kappel poses with her husband, daughter, and the Network Library of the Year plaque at the Library of Congress.
Pittsburgh regional librarian Kathleen
Kappel (center) poses with her husband,
daughter, and the Network Library of the
Year plaque at the Library of Congress.

"The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has made a tremendous effort to reach potential patrons and introduce individuals to the talking-book program," said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "Its informative publications, innovative services, and substantial outreach efforts make Carnegie LBPH the NLS Network Library of the Year."

The Library of Congress Partnerships and Outreach Programs director gave the welcoming address to the gathering, which included Kathleen Kappel, director of the Carnegie LBPH, and members of her family and staff. Also present were network library regional chairpersons and representatives of the American Council for the Blind, the American Library Association, the Blinded Veterans of America, and the National Federation of the Blind.

One of the original libraries to cooperate with the Library of Congress Division for the Blind network in 1931, Carnegie LBPH serves thirty-six counties in Western Pennsylvania and more than 8,100 patrons. In addition to providing reading materials to current patrons, Carnegie LBPH’s outreach efforts have informed more than 5,300 potential patrons about its services. The Carnegie van has traveled to all of the counties the library serves, completing fifty-nine visits including appearances at senior programs, health fairs and expos, and annual meetings.

By forming partnerships and collaborating with state agencies, disability organizations, foundations, and consumer groups, Carnegie LBPH increased library visitation by 153 percent in 2007; disseminated information to more than 3,600 individuals; welcomed more than 1,000 new readers; and made twenty media appearances, including articles in newspapers and magazines and features in radio and television segments.

In 2007, despite a 50-percent cut in the outreach program’s budget, Carnegie LBPH increased attendance at its events by 20 percent, coming in contact with more than 4,200 adults and 1,000 children throughout its service area. The library also received the 2007 AARP Award for Excellence in Library Service for Older Adults.

Carnegie LBPH’s innovative services have won the approval of its patrons. Carnegie was the first network library to launch a voice-activated, public-access catalog (Vo-PAC), offering 66 percent of its patrons who do not have access to a computer an opportunity to search the collection and order books privately and independently.

The Carnegie LBPH is the fourth recipient of the Network Library of the Year Award. "We are honored to recognize the accomplishments of the cooperating libraries," said Cylke. "Without the network, NLS could not carry out its mission."

A select committee of librarians and patrons recommended the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for the award using three criteria: mission support, or the extent to which the library reached or exceeded the American Library Association Revised Standards and Guidelines for Service; innovation in providing service; and record of patron satisfaction.

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Grad student hopes to pioneer service for blind readers in Mongolia

Like her Mongolian ancestors, Uyanga Erdenebold has an ambitious vision for changing her world. Erdenebold, who will earn her master’s degree in library science from Louisiana State University in May 2009, plans to return to her home country and work to provide blind people equal access to information within the Mongolian national library system. As part of her plan to develop a library for students with disabilities in Mongolia, Erdenebold completed an independent study at NLS from May 22 to June 6, 2008.

Uyanga Erdenebold tours the NLS studio
Uyanga Erdenebold tours the NLS studio.

"The purpose of my field study was to get an overview of the NLS service," said Erdenebold. She observed the intricacies involved in digital talking-book production, collection development, and catalog creation. Her visit coincided with the annual meeting of the Collection Development Advisory Committee, and she was able to closely observe the national committee’s deliberations and policymaking proceedings.

"I loved listening to audiobooks in the studio," said Erdenebold. "I find the digital player and cartridge remarkable." She was impressed by the level of detail involved in planning, such as "the fact that you have to make the size of the digital container the same as the size of the tape container so that it will fill the same space on the library shelf."

"Patrons are lucky to have such a service. I didn’t have any audiobooks in my country." She recalled relying on her family to read literature. "One night my brother would read to me, the next night my sister, and so on."

In addition to visiting NLS, Erdenebold also toured the District of Columbia Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. "They helped me understand how NLS relates to network libraries," she explained.

She also talked about the difference between services available to blind people in the United States and services for blind people in Mongolia. "There is one room in the state library in Mongolia that was set up a few years ago, but there is no collection-development policy for blind and physically handicapped readers. All books are donated. There are no books in Mongolian, and most of the blind people there don’t know English. The library service is virtually nonexistent. We have to start from scratch."

According to Erdenebold, the lack of library services for blind people creates challenges for youth in her home country. "At every stage of my education I always had problems reading my textbooks and getting access to my study materials," she said. "I always needed family or friends to help me. The main thing that discourages blind students from studying is that they don’t have family or friends to help them."

Erdenebold’s education motivated her to change her studies to address the fundamental difficulty facing all blind students in Mongolia—access to information. "Originally my interest was in linguistics, but because of all the problems I had in college—which quite frankly I thought would be over when I graduated—I became interested in library sciences," she said. "I really want to help college students with their research and give high school students a chance to finish their studies. The focus of my library will be giving students access to education."

She plans to pursue grants from institutions such as the Carnegie Endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Force Foundation to fund her library project, which Erdenebold believes will change many lives. "A service like the one NLS provides could help lots of people in Mongolia because they are unemployed and often depressed," she said. “But if they could have access to literature, it would be so different."

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Network exchange

Attendees at Oklahoma's annual meeting examine the new NLS digital talking-book player.
Attendees at Oklahoma's annual meeting examine the new NLS digital talking-book player.

Oklahoma celebrates Friends of the Library

Oklahomans for Special Library Services (OSLS), a nonprofit organization formed to promote the interests and welfare of the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (OLBPH), held its annual meeting on May 15, 2008. Eighty OSLS members; OLBPH patrons, librarians, and volunteers; and staff members from the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services attended to celebrate the organization’s goals and projects. Attendees heard from Alice Baker, assistant to the chief of the NLS Materials Development Division, and local Oklahoma authors Bill and Cindy Paul.

In 2008, OSLS purchased descriptive videos and produced the library’s newsletter, in addition to helping fund the upkeep of “The Hill,” an award-winning fragrance garden and walking path specially designed for blind and physically handicapped people. OSLS also provided funding for a summer reading program for young readers.

A highlight of the meeting was Baker’s long-awaited preview of the new digital talking-book player. Several patrons of OLBPH expressed their excitement at the technology, saying, “I can’t wait to get one of those new machines.” Following Baker’s presentation, Oklahomans Bill and Cindy Paul, who wrote the historical novel Shadow of an Indian Star, about the founding of Pauls Valley, a town located about forty miles south of Oklahoma City, entertained the audience with stories of frontier adventure.

After the program, refreshments were served as the Pauls signed books and patrons and librarians were given a hands-on introduction to the new digital player.

New Jersey offers virtual pet ownership

For the past year, as part of its award-winning American Sign Language (ASL) story hour, the Library for the Blind and Handicapped (LBH) in Trenton, New Jersey, has been able to share the joys of canine companionship with young patrons whose allergies, disabilities, or living situations prevent them from having a pet.

Thanks to Pete Campione, founder and owner of Kindred Souls Canine Center of Howell, New Jersey, and Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs of Morris Plains, New Jersey, the monthly ASL story hours have been livened by the presence of specially trained therapy dogs. Campione attends the story hours to teach the children about caring for dogs and safety around dogs.

At a special story hour on May 13, 2008, young readers were introduced to a new way of learning about pets. Nintendogs, handheld video games that reproduce the experience of owning a dog, were presented to students. The video game allows children to pick the breed of the dog, name it, feed it, and teach it tricks in addition to other lifelike activities. The Nintendogs were donated by Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs to two local schools that regularly bring children to the story hour: Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Ewing, New Jersey, and the Hunterdon County ESC School in Lambertville, New Jersey.

LBH is one of the few regional NLS regional libraries that offers services for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as for blind individuals. The ASL story hour was the recipient of the 2006 New Jersey Distinguished Governmental Agency Award.

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Manal Amin and Lamia Abdalfattah

Egyptian librarians visit NLS

Manal Amin (left) and Lamia Abdelfattah, librarians for Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandria, speak with NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke during a special study visit to NLS on April 22, 2008.

Both librarians were in the United States to receive customized continuing professional education at the Library of Congress and at the Sheridan Libraries of the Johns Hopkins University and the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore, Maryland.

Their visit to NLS focused on the digital recording process and applying metadata standards.

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The Program

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress publishes books and magazines in braille and in recorded form on discs and cassettes for readers who cannot hold, handle, or see well enough to read conventional print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical handicap.

Through a national network of state and local libraries, the materials are loaned free to eligible readers in the United States and to U.S. citizens living abroad. Materials are sent to readers and returned by postage-free mail.

Books and Magazines

Readers may borrow all types of popular-interest books including bestsellers, classics, mysteries, westerns, poetry, history, biographies, religious literature, children's books, and foreign-language materials. Readers may also subscribe to more than seventy popular magazines in braille and recorded formats.

Special Equipment

Special equipment needed to play the discs and cassettes, which are recorded at slower than conventional speeds, is loaned indefinitely to readers. An amplifier with headphone is available for blind and physically handicapped readers who are also certified as hearing impaired. Other devices are provided to aid readers with mobility impairments in using playback machines.


You are eligible for the Library of Congress program if:

How to Apply

You may request an application by writing NLS or calling toll-free 1-800-424-9100, and your name will be referred to your cooperating library.

News is published quarterly by:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

All correspondence should be addressed to the attention of Publications and Media Section. To change address or cancel subscription, please enclose mailing label.

Editor: Ingrid Davitt

Writers: Jane Caulton, Lina Dutky, Corriece Gwynn, Paula Higgins, and Wilson McBee.

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