April-June 2017
Vol. 49, No. 2

NLS honors Washington State library for service and innovation

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (center), who represents Washington’s Seventh Congressional District, attended the awards luncheon to congratulate WTBBL director Danielle Miller (right) and Washington’s state librarian, Cindy Aden.

By Lina Dutky

For the second time in eight years, the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) of Seattle has been honored with the NLS Network Library of the Year award.

Danielle Miller, WTBBL director and regional librarian, and Cindy Aden, Washington’s state librarian, accepted the award at a luncheon May 19 in the Whittall Pavilion of the historic Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Washington’s Seventh Congressional District, attended the luncheon and offered her congratulations to the Seattle library.

sharing information at table smiling and laughing
engaged in conversation Library staff listen as Kleiman speaks
At the Network Library Awards luncheon, clockwise from top: Susan Hammer-Schneider, head of the North Dakota Talking Book Library, and Pamela Davenport, NLS network consultant; Brian Charlson, director of computer training at the Carroll Center for the Blind, and Judy Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer; Allan Kleiman, director of the Montville Township (N.J.) Public Library, Eugene Flanagan, director of National Programs for the Library of Congress, and Karen Keninger, NLS director; and David Hyde, chairman of the National Federation of the Blind’s Library Services Committee, and Vickie Collins, NLS Network Section head.

“The NLS Network Library of the Year award was created to honor excellence and innovation in providing library services to blind and physically handicapped people,” said NLS director Karen Keninger. “The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library fits that definition to a T, and I’m happy to recognize them, for the second time since this award was created in 2005, for their hard work. 

“With fewer than 25 staff, they continued to go above and beyond to reach their patrons last year—including creating an innovative mobile gaming lab, undertaking a statewide in-person outreach campaign, and airing PSAs designed to reach their diverse audience.”

WTBBL’s efforts are focused on creating meaningful connections for patrons like Carl Jarvis, an 82-year-old from Quilcene, Washington, who has used the free library service since 1965. “Talking books have been my steady companion,” Jarvis said. “I could not imagine life without this valued service.”

WTBBL is most proud of its outreach to senior citizens, young people, and Latinos, Miller said.

A team of three WTBBL staff members visited 90 assisted living facilities in 53 cities and attended numerous tabling events and booths at local fairs. The statewide effort accomplished multiple objectives, including assessing existing institutional accounts, raising public awareness of the free library program, and creating opportunities for Patron Advisory Council members to join staff members for site visits.

There was also a dynamic new approach to youth services programming. Marian Mays, the WTBBL youth services librarian, was awarded a Teen Tech Week grant from the Young Adult Library Services Association that enabled her to travel the state with a mobile gaming lab that included a giant Jenga game, Monopoly, chess, and other educational and social interaction tools. The six-foot-tall towers of Jenga pieces were extremely popular and made headlines around the state.

Hundreds of children and families also were served in person in the library and virtually through weekly multisensory story times. WTBBL partnered with the Washington State School for the Blind to arrange monthly playgroups for children who are blind. The library’s annual summer reading program included interactive events like “Challenge Air Fly Day,” and they continued their popular pen-pal program that encourages literacy and connects youths across the state.

“The library is awesome,” said Meagan Holt, whose four-year-old daughter Maddie is deaf-blind and a WTBBL patron. “Their youth services are amazing!”

WTBBL expanded its outreach to the Latino community through public service announcements on Spanish-language radio stations; partnering with a local provider of health services to Latinos and the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs; exhibiting at Fiestas Patrias, Washington’s largest Hispanic cultural event; and placing a half-page full-color ad in the local Hispanic directory. In 2016 WTBBL saw a 33 percent increase in Spanish-speaking patrons who were registered for service.

“We are delighted and humbled to receive this award,” Miller said. “I’m honored to be part of a team committed to finding innovative ways to ensure Washington residents unable to read standard print have access to reading materials.”

WTBBL by the numbers, 2016
8,320 visitors hosted
9,349 individual readers served
500 institutions served
293,877 physical items circulated
106,669 books and magazines downloaded via BARD
1,704 new patrons added
14,850 volunteer hours

NLS marches into the world of graphic novels

By Claire Rojstaczer

John Lewis’s three-volume memoir March, which weaves the history of the civil rights movement through the author’s account of his own journey from an Alabama farm to the U.S. Congress, was the first graphic novel to receive a National Book Award.

It now is set to achieve another milestone: the first full-length graphic novel to become an NLS talking book.

Young, holding graphic novel, reads into microphone.
NLS narrator Chuck Young reads March in the studio

“We’ve done books with graphical elements in the past,” explained NLS Studio director Celeste Lawson. Those include Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (DB80646), a memoir by award-winning New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, and Wonderstruck (DB74157) by Brian Selznick, a coming-of-age story told half in text and half in full-page illustrations. So when Jill Garcia, an NLS senior selection librarian, brought March down and asked if the studio could record it, “I knew it was possible,” Lawson said. “I also knew writing the script would be a great deal of work. Unlike commercial audiobook producers, when we do graphical material, we describe all the images. Fortunately, Laura Giannarelli volunteered.”

Thompson listens through earphones and inspects drawings.
Monitor Julian Thompson reviews pages of narration

“It’s a pretty challenging process,” agreed Giannarelli, an NLS Studio narrator for nearly four decades. “It takes me probably an hour to write a script for each ten pages. My method is to describe what I see as objectively as possible. Rather than say, ‘He is surprised,’ I’ll say, ‘His mouth is open, his eyebrows are raised, and his eyes are wide.’ You try as much as possible to give the facts and let the reader interpret. But there’s also an art to balancing the details of the pictures with the forward momentum of the text. As a scene heats up, you drop the details and focus on the words.”

This spring, Giannarelli was still working on the script for the third volume of March. Meanwhile, NLS Studio narrator Chuck Young and monitor Julian Thompson were busy recording the first two volumes, with both Laura’s script and the original graphic novel at hand for reference. It’s a more time-intensive effort than most NLS talking books, but everyone involved agreed the book is worth it. “For young people,” Giannarelli said, “it’s a brilliant way of inviting them to learn the story of the civil rights movement. It really brings home the relentlessness of the era.”

Will NLS do more graphical novels in the future? Maybe. “It’s an occasional project,” Lawson stressed. “In a few years we might tackle another one. But this just seemed like such an important work to make available to our patrons now.”

3D replicas create museums where touching is encouraged

By Yvonne French

What do the skull of an American crow, a peanut from 1890, and the key to Edgar Allan Poe's trunk have in common?

They are all available for 3D printing as tactile graphics for use in schools, libraries, and museums—and they can help people who are blind to experience the world, past and present, through touch.

The skull, peanut, and key are just three of more than 2,500 archaeological artifacts and ecofacts (plant or animal material found at anp archaeological site) that have been replicated by students at the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.

Talkov shows Kim ojbects including a skull.
Andrew Talkov (right) of the Virginia Historical Society guides Kimmy Drudge’s hands over a 3D replica of George Washington’s signature. Photo courtesy of VCU News.

The 3D files are uploaded to https://sketchfab.com/virtualcurationlab. Anyone can download and print them on a 3D printer, which can be found in a growing number of libraries and printing businesses.

The lab received funding in late April to create plastic replicas from the collections of the Virginia Historical Society for an exhibition opening at the end of the year. Andrew Talkov, vice president for programs there, tested the effectiveness of tactile graphics in the society’s museum last year.

One of the participants was NLS patron Kimmy Drudge, 14 at the time, of Chesterfield County, Virginia. “This is it! This is it!” she said, bouncing with excitement in anticipation of feeling a replica of George Washington’s signature from a letter written in 1775.

“Here, I’ll show you where the ‘G’ is,” Talkov told her, guiding her hands. “What does it feel like?”

“Like stuff that I can’t even read,” she says. “I can’t read cursive. I wish George would have written it in print for Jedi who are blind and don’t read cursive!” (Can you tell she’s a Star Wars fan?)

Drudge got to keep the replica signature and displays it on her dresser at home.

raised signature on plastic plate
A replica of George Washington’s signature created by the Virtual Curation Laboratory. Courtesy VCU News.

VCU anthropology professor Bernard Means started the lab in 2011. "My students are energized by their engagement with others working to preserve and make the past come alive,” he said.

Means and his students add braille and raised lettering to some of the objects, such as a key from St. Mary’s City, Maryland, or make mash-ups of cultural items by applying them to puzzle and chess pieces. They call these ecofictions. The games help pass the time as the NextEngine Desktop 3D lasers operate with bat-like echolocation to map the topography of each object to create a print. Complex shapes such as skulls can take up to three 30-minute passes.

Other organizations that make the past accessible through 3D scanning include:

  • Idaho Virtualization Laboratory of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, which has fossils as well as skeletons of many bird, fish, and mammal species, including the American bison. http://bit.ly/2rwZgs5
  • The University of West Florida Archaeology Institute in Pensacola, where students are printing models of shipwrecks like the gunboat Philadelphia and exploring how to create scale models of landscapes using 3D laser scanning. http://bit.ly/2qRtlle
  • Smithsonian X 3D, which has a good “getting started” page, features downloadable models. https://3d.si.edu
  • The British Museum. http://bit.ly/13jqiDn

The Virtual Curation Lab started with a small Department of Defense grant to scan archaeological objects from a marine base in Virginia, and soon spread to encompass mostly East Coast sites.

At this writing, Means was on a flight to India to make even more tactile graphics available.

Some information in this story came from the February 17, 2016, edition of VCU News.


As renovations began on the NLS building in
Northwest Washington, 40 of the 100-plus
staffers moved in late April to temporary space
on the main Library of Congress campus on
Capitol Hill. Clockwise from left: writer-editor
Gabrielle Barnes helps a mover determine
what goes; shelves once filled with books sit
empty, soon to be disassembled; and packed
boxes are stacked in front of a floorplan showing the main floor of the NLS building.

Network Exchange

Colorado Public Radio aired a story about the Colorado Talking Book Library in March. Library director Debbi MacLeod reports that the story ran during the local news segments on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” and on a local show called “Colorado Matters.” “It was great exposure,” she said, “and we have already started to receive applications as a result.”

Here’s a link to the story in print and an audio clip of the interview with MacLeod: http://bit.ly/2oDYpRl

Congratulations to Chancey Fleet, coordinator of assistive technology training at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York City, on being named one of Library Journal's Movers & Shakers of 2017.

Fleet smiling in front of bookshelf

While a student at the College of William and Mary, Fleet worked at the Virginia Library and Resource Center in Richmond. Later, after moving to New York, she and other volunteers started a free computer support clinic at the Andrew Heiskell library. She has been a staff member there since 2014. Fleet also co-chairs the research and development committee of the National Federation of the Blind.

Read the magazine’s profile of Fleet at http://bit.ly/2pw9PHv

The January/February issue of American Libraries Magazine featured the New Jersey State Library’s Talking Book and Braille Center (TBBC) in a story about libraries’ efforts to improve patrons’ access to assistive technology.

“Public libraries are learning centers for new technology,” TBBC director Adam Szczepaniak told the magazine. “These initiatives help boost that level of learning to include not only assistive software for those with vision impairments but training as well, which is in high demand by those who need assistance learning how to use an iPad, or who need help browsing the Internet because their vision is changing.”

The Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, and NLS were all mentioned in the story, too. Read it at http://bit.ly/2jlTWQG.

Braille Institute Library Services open house chair Tina Herbison (left) with radio personality Nancy Solari and NLS narrators Jennifer Mendenhall and Michael Kramer.

More than 300 people attended events during the Braille Institute Library Services annual open house in Los Angeles, April 10–14—the first for Reed Strege, who became the library’s director in May 2016.

Highlights included talks by radio personality/motivational speaker Nancy Solari, husband-and-wife narrators Michael Kramer and Jennifer Mendenhall (also known to readers of NLS talking books as Kate Reading), and children’s book authors Willa Robinson and Etan Boritzer. The open house also featured a jazz concert, a drum circle for the children, and a poetry reading by patron Joy Walker.

There also was a resource fair and appearances by the Academy of Music for the Blind and the student group Survive or Thrive.

Rex sniffs dollar bill

Will new bills pass Rex’s sniff test?

Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) staff came to NLS on March 23 to test a potential raised tactile feature for future U.S. currency. BEP partners with NLS to distribute free currency readers to eligible U.S. residents. Here, Tracy A. Garrett (left), a public affairs specialist in BEP’s Meaningful Access Program, watches while NLS Braille Development Officer Tamara Rorie—with help from her guide dog Rex—tests the features on a prototype bill.