October–December 2013
Vol. 45, No. 4

BARD Mobile launches to widespread acclaim

Since its release on September 20, 2013, the BARD Mobile app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch has met with widespread enthusiasm.

braille B cell and sound waves with Library of Congress flag logo
BARD Mobile logo

“Devouring an audiobook with the BARD Mobile app is almost as easy as picking up a book, lifting up your head when you get an interruption, and intuitively turning the book over as you slowly nod off to sleep,” wrote Maurie Hill in the Ai Squared blog. Amy Mason, writing for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), declared to her readers that “if you are an iOS owner with an NLS BARD account, you should download the app right now.” Approximately 5,000 patrons did exactly that in just the first week after it became available on the App Store.

Like BARD itself, the mobile app allows NLS patrons to get their books and magazines faster than regular mail. “They can download the book they want today and have it ready within five minutes,” said Karen Keninger, NLS director. “And they can do it using a mainstream device.”

That gives patrons a new degree of freedom. “People who are blind have been asking for ways to read books using their iPhones and iPads ever since Apple released VoiceOver (its built-in screen reader),” said Neil Bernstein, NLS research and development officer. “Patrons tell us that it’s meaningful to be able to use the same device their friends and neighbors are using, and they don’t have to buy a specific product only for blind users.”

Aware of patron demand, NLS began soliciting bids for app development in 2012. Shinano-Kenshi Corporation, which also produced the digital talking-book machine (DTBM), won the contract. Working with Shinano-Kenshi was “a real collaborative effort,” according to Bernstein, with constant communication between NLS engineers and the contractor.

By May 2013, the app was ready for pre-beta testing by network librarians and NLS staff. In August, patrons were recruited, bringing the total testing team to approximately 50 people. The beta went smoothly, uncovering a few errors and providing an opportunity to improve some aspects of the interface.

“One recurring complaint from testers was that when they visited BARD using the app, they were presented with the same download links that appeared when using BARD on a computer—links that couldn’t be used on a mobile device,” Bernstein explained. “We changed the way BARD displayed within BARD Mobile so that only the ‘add to my wishlist’ link appeared, which made the process of getting books more intuitive.” To download a book from BARD Mobile, patrons need to add it to their wishlist, then access their wishlist within the app.

Other improvements are on the horizon. As BARD Mobile 1.0 continued to expand in popularity (by the end of 2013, more than 8,000 patrons had logged in via the app) NLS is already hard at work planning for version 1.0.1. The revised release will fix some lingering bugs, such as issues with the app failing to register two-fingered double taps, and rebuild the app for iOS 7. “BARD Mobile is a living product,” Bernstein said. “We have long-range plans for ways to grow and improve it.” An Android version also remains under development.

“We anticipate that significant numbers of readers will eventually adopt an app as their primary reading device,” Keninger said. That will have benefits beyond providing patrons who choose to use the app with an improved reading experience.

“There are so many opportunities right now with the changes in technology,” Keninger said. BARD Mobile’s successful launch and eager reception shows that patron demand for such technological improvements is there—and NLS is capable of meeting it.

BARD keeps sailor connected far from home

NLS Overseas Librarian Y. Rathan Raj recently received this letter from patron Bev Collins, who is sailing around the world on the Seattle-based Mersoleil with her husband Robbie. Excerpts are presented. 

Bev Collins

I was diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 50, more than 10 years ago. Uncontrolled by drops, the glaucoma has gradually caused a loss of visual field.

Aware that I may spend my rocking-chair days with little or no vision, I decided to join my husband in his long-held dream of sailing around the world. We left Seattle in September 2011 and have since sailed through Mexico, French Polynesia, Niue, Tonga, and New Zealand.

I long resisted suggestions that audiobooks might replace my beloved reading time. No, no—I didn’t want to listen to books. I wanted to hold a book in my hands! I wanted to smell the paper, and know what page I’m on and how to spell the name of the protagonist! No, thank you: audiobooks were not for me.

How my mind has been changed since I heard about the NLS program! This incredible opportunity broke my resistance and about a year ago I requested a digital talking-book machine (DTBM) and access to BARD.

All my preconceptions about audiobooks were wrong. I’m downloading all the great books I’ve wanted to read over the years. At night, the DTBM’s brilliant 15-minute-sleep function lulls me off to sleep.

The introduction of the BARD Mobile app is a wonderful thing. Having books on my iPhone will open up a thrilling new world to me. Next time we make a passage I’m going to have my current read on an iPhone in a waterproof pocket. What could be better than watching the sunset and the waves, or the moon and stars above, while listening to a brilliant book?

For people like me who have disabilities, but don't want to be deterred from adventure, the NLS BARD system is a priceless gift. How fortunate we are!

Partnership with commercial publishers increases options for NLS patrons

Three book covers
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, Etc. by David Sedaris; The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver; and Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits by Joyce Meyer were the first titles NLS acquired under its new partnership with Hachette Book Group.

A new partnership with Hachette Book Group allows NLS to offer more books—particularly bestsellers—to patrons faster.

“We are very excited about our partnership with Hachette and are looking forward to forming more partnerships with other commercial producers,” said NLS director Karen Keninger. “By taking advantage of commercial recordings where we can, we hope to put more books into the NLS talking- book program and do it in a more timely fashion. This will help us focus our efforts on producing books for our patrons that don’t have commercial audio counterparts.”

Last summer the New York publisher—whose roster of authors includes James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci, and many more—began providing NLS direct access to many of its narrated books.

The first book NLS acquired under the partnership was Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by humorist David Sedaris. It was uploaded to the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service in July. Jeffery Deaver’s 2013 mystery The Kill Room and Joyce Meyer’s Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits followed soon after. More than 50 Hachette titles are now available on BARD, and will soon be available on digital cartridge.

And more partnerships are in the works: NLS recently signed an agreement with commercial audiobook producers Scholastic and Audible and is in talks with several others.           

With Hachette providing its audio files free of charge, NLS reduces the cost of creating digital talking books. The costs of converting the commercial file into a format that can be read by NLS talking-book machines, duplication onto cartridges, and shipping remain, but narration costs for those titles are eliminated.

“We are proud to work directly with NLS in this endeavor. As a publisher, Hachette Book Group strives to make authors’ content as widely accessible as possible, and the NLS program is the perfect channel to reach fans of our books and audiobooks,” said Anthony Goff, vice president of Audio and Large-Print Publishing.

In Memoriam

Caroline Mansur met with NLS Production Control Assistant Section Head Joel Phillips and Section Head John Bryant when they visited Insight for the Blind in August 2010.

Caroline Mansur, founder and chairperson emeritus of Insight for the Blind, a longtime producer of NLS audio materials, died September 15, 2013. She was 91.

Born in Prince George County, Virginia, in 1921, Mansur received a bachelor’s degree in music from Southeast College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and served as lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

In 1947, she married Edward Mansur Jr. and moved to Virginia, where they built a house, operated a small farm with a few cattle and chickens, and raised their family. Years later, Mansur and her husband pursued a shared dream and lived on a sailboat while cruising the Caribbean. They did this for three years before settling in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 1970.

In 1975, inspired by a blind man who was frustrated by the lack of accessible reading materials, Mansur founded Insight for the Blind as a nonprofit organization with the help of three friends.

During the first few years of operation, Mansur contacted various business groups and individuals for financial support, including the Telephone Pioneers, who built Insight’s first soundproof recording booth, and Judge George Richardson Jr., who provided Insight a suite of offices in Ft. Lauderdale at no cost. During her 35 years of leading the organization, Mansur continually reached out to community groups for support and sought volunteers wherever she went. 

“Mrs. Mansur was always recruiting,” said Insight for the Blind president and chief executive officer Matt Corey. “On more than one occasion, she solicited business cards from people she met at the grocery store and the mall because she heard them speak and liked their voices” and thought they would make good audiobook narrators.

Within two years of its conception, Insight began recording for the Florida Division of Blind Services, and NLS asked it to become one of only ten studios in America to record material for the Library of Congress talking-book program. 

“Mrs. Mansur really was committed to recording for the blind community,” said Margaret Goergen-Rood, assistant head of the NLS Quality Assurance Section. “It was her charisma and dedication—not only to Insight but to the volunteers—that made Insight for the Blind the viable organization that it is. She will be missed.”

Under Mansur’s leadership, Insight for the Blind recorded more than 2,000 titles for NLS. It is currently the only all-volunteer studio recording talking books for NLS.

Mansur is survived by her two daughters, Lesley Linton and Marcey Carter Moscovitch; two grandchildren, Tara Linton and Nanda Moscovitch; and more than 120 dedicated Insight for the Blind volunteers.

Abraham Nemeth, the creator of braille’s Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, died October 3, 2013, at the age of 94.

Abraham Nemeth

Nemeth wanted to be a math teacher—he had known it ever since he earned top grades in his first-year algebra class in high school. But when he enrolled at Brooklyn College in the late 1930s, his guidance counselors steered him away from the subject. A blind person could never get a job in that field, they told him.

Nemeth proved them wrong—and paved the way for countless other people who are blind to study and build careers in math, science, engineering, and technology.

Among the honors Nemeth received for his lifetime’s work: the American Foundation for the Blind’s (AFB) Migel Medal, the American Printing House for the Blind’s (APH) Creative Use of Braille Award, and the Division of Visual Impairments of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Exemplary Advocate Award. He also was inducted into the APH-curated Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field.

Nemeth, who was blind almost from birth, majored in psychology at Brooklyn College and got a master’s degree from Columbia University. But as he recounted in a 1994 essay in Exceptional Parent magazine, he could only find unskilled work. Besides hemming pillowcases and playing piano at a bar, he had various jobs at AFB—including typing braille itineraries for Helen Keller’s fundraising trips.

“After working all day, I relaxed by taking evening mathematics courses at Brooklyn College,” he recalled. Frustrated by the lack of accessible study materials, he created a special braille code to express complicated mathematical symbols and concepts. As explained in a 1958 story in Coronet magazine, “Nemeth first figured out ways to make the 63 available braille symbols do triple and quadruple duty. Then he converted every problem into uniform little dots evenly spaced along a level line—everything from simple fractions and ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs to cube roots and logarithm tables.” He even invented a braille slide rule.

In 1950, Nemeth presented his code to the American Joint Uniform Braille Committee. It became widely adopted, and since 1954 all math textbooks printed for blind readers in North America have been in the Nemeth Code.

Nemeth began PhD studies in mathematics, and after a series of part-time jobs was hired at the University of Detroit in 1955, where he taught for 30 years. Nemeth also started the graduate program in computer science there, according to his Hall of Fame biography.

After retiring, Nemeth dedicated much of his spare time to creating braille versions of Jewish texts. He also helped develop MathSpeak, a method for communicating math orally.

“Dr. Nemeth was an extraordinary man who followed his dream in spite of tremendous obstacles,” NLS director Karen Keninger said. “In doing so, he opened the world of mathematics and science not only for himself, but for all blind students who came after him.”

2014 exhibit schedule

NLS plans to exhibit at the following conventions and professional association meetings this year:

American Library Association Midwinter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 24–27
Texas Music Educator Association
San Antonio, Texas, February 12–15
Music Library Association
Atlanta, Georgia, February 26–March 2
American Society on Aging
San Diego, California, March 11–15
Public Library Association
Indianapolis, Indiana, March 11–15
Abilities Expo
Atlanta, Georgia, March 14–16
American Occupational Therapy Association
Baltimore, Maryland, April 3–6
Boston, Massachusetts, May 8–10
International Reading Association
New Orleans, Louisiana, May 9–12
American Diabetes Association
Orlando, Florida, May 23–26
American Optometric Association
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 25–29
American Library Association National
Las Vegas, Nevada, June 26–July 1
National Council on Independent Living
Washington, D.C., July 24–27
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
San Antonio, Texas, July 30–August 4
National Federation of the Blind
Orlando, Florida, July 1–6
American Council of the Blind
Las Vegas, Nevada, July 11–19
Blinded Veterans Association
Sparks, Nevada, August 18–21
National Book Festival
Washington, D.C., August 30
American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine
San Diego, California, September 10–13

Network Exchange

Braille Institute open house draws celebrities

From left to right: Tina Herbison, open house chair; Boxleitner; Liu; Peter A. Mindnich, Braille Institute executive vice president; Lochte; and Dr. Henry C. Chang, Braille Institute Director of Library Services.

More than 400 staff members and guests attended the Braille Institute Library’s open house on October 18, 2013, in Los Angeles. Actor, producer, and author Bruce Boxleitner; suspense writer and drama critic Dick Lochte; and bestselling novelist and memoirist Aimee Liu were the guest speakers. The event included a Tech Café, demonstrations of the new BARD Mobile app, and a workshop hosted by life coach Nancy Solari.

DC and Massachusetts teens enjoy virtual book club

The District of Columbia Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (DCLBPH) teamed up with a Massachusetts school teacher to start a virtual book club for visually impaired students.

The idea took root in the summer of 2012 when Pittsfield, Massachusetts, teacher Lynn Shortis was visiting Washington with a group of her visually impaired students and heard about the DCLBPH’s VIP Teens weekly after-school program.

Shortis got in touch with Venetia Demson, then-chief of the library’s Adaptive Services Division, and they came up with the Nachos Book Club. Get-togethers were held by Skype; the DCLBPH students met at the library and Shortis’s students met at the Pittsfield public-access TV station, which also broadcast the meetings on its cable channel.

“The students loved it and want to do it again,” Shortis said. Rachel Meit, the current Adaptive Services chief, said the possibility of reviving the book club is being considered.

Nebraska videos target older, younger patrons

Nebraska patron with talking-book player and mailing containers. Volunteer holding talking-book player and mailing container.

The Nebraska Library Commission Talking Book & Braille Service (TBBS) uploaded a new video to YouTube recently. “Talking Books: Relax and Enjoy!” is aimed at older people and those who live in care facilities. It follows a video TBBS completed earlier this year called “Talking Books: Here, Now,” which was aimed at a younger audience.

“We wanted to show that the new digital players and books are ‘cooler’ than the old cassette machines,” said Scott Scholz, circulation and audio production coordinator.

“The scripts were developed in-house, and the postproduction was done by staff, but we hired a cameraperson from the state’s public television station on a freelance basis to do the actual shooting and lighting for both videos,” Scholz said. The man in the “Relax and Enjoy!” video is a TBBS patron; the woman in the “Here, Now” video is a volunteer.

TBBS also added a press page to its website that includes links to the videos and to radio public service announcements. “We plan to do a few more radio spots in the coming year that will focus on BARD and mobile device apps,” Scholz said. The web page is at http://nlc.nebraska.gov/TBBS/press.aspx.