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June 11, 2010

Digital Talking Books Celebrated by Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Readers

Two hundred librarians and staff who serve blind and physically handicapped individuals celebrated the national rollout of the digital talking-book system at the biennial conference hosted by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress.

"We All Did It! The Digital Future Is Now" was the theme of the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, held on May 15-20 in Des Moines, Iowa. The celebration marked the release of digital talking books and players to special-format libraries that serve a readership of 900,000.

"The delivery of high-quality-sound book cartridges and easy-to-navigate players was the result of 10 years of research, planning, and development," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "The digital talking-book system will eventually replace cassettes and the machines used to play them in the homes of all our patrons."

Workshops covered distribution, inspection, and maintenance of digital talking-book machines; quality assurance for digital audio books and magazines; and best practices for registering and training patrons to use the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service, through which eligible patrons download audio books and magazines over the Internet. Interested participants received a demonstration of a duplication device that librarians may use to simultaneously copy audio books from BARD onto multiple digital audio cartridges.

In his keynote address, Stephen Kuusisto, author, poet, and University of Iowa professor, noted his strong support of the talking-book program through the years and highlighted the progress of the program. He recounted his experience reading and sharing with his peers "Paradise Lost" by John Milton "on a long-playing record for the blind from the Library of Congress." He also said, "NLS allows us to read broadly and comprehensively," referring to the range of books available through the NLS International Union Catalog.

Tom Miller, executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association, lauded the librarians for their work. He said that "besides not being able to drive anymore, not being able to read" is a concern to soldiers who return from the war blind. "The service you provide is truly a joy and a pleasure to us."

Guest speaker on the consumer panel Tom Galante reflected on developments in the free library service. "It’s amazing how far the program has come. Big boxes with straps around them would come in the mail. Now I can have a book in 45 seconds," he said, referring to his ability to download books from BARD. Galante, vice president of human resources for the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pa., praised the work of librarians who serve blind and physically handicapped readers: "You do so many more things than delivering books. Librarians provide instruction, direction, and opportunities for networking. I can find out about anything and everything available to me."

Also on the consumer panel was motivational speaker Michael Hingson, a survivor of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He told the participants, "You and this program saved my life. Having the opportunity to read, to learn about many things, helped me to go down the stairs on 9/11. I was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center Tower One." The California resident was employed at the time as the Mid-Atlantic region sales manager of the Quantum Corp. He explained how he and his guide dog, Roselle, helped the seven employees in his office escape.

The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals meets every two years to be briefed and updated on developments at NLS and throughout the network of cooperating libraries. The 2012 conference will be held in Rhode Island.

NLS administers the free program that loans materials to residents of the United States who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of visual or physical handicaps. These materials include braille and recorded books and magazines, music scores in braille and large print and specifically designed playback equipment. For more information about NLS at the Library of Congress, visit www.loc.gov/nls/.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on site, in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill, and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.

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PR 10-146
06/11/10
ISSN 0731-3527

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