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News April–June 2018

In this Issue

Colorado and Michigan libraries honored
Behind the scenes
NLS Music Section’s digital archiving
Overseas Librarian prepares to retire
Network Exchange
Ohio Braille Challenge

Community-building is the key for the latest NLS Network Library of the Year winners

By Mark Schwartz

Community-building is implicitly part of what libraries do when they provide services, and both of the latest NLS Network Library of the Year Award winners excel in that.

The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) has achieved an average 98.5 percent patron satisfaction score over 14 years of biennial surveys and developed a large corps of volunteers to support the work of its 13 paid staff members. CTBL was honored at a May 17 awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., as the NLS 2017 Network Library of the Year.

Sharing the spotlight with CTBL was Braille and Talking Books at Taylor Community Library (BTBTCL), southwest of Detroit, Michigan. For its outstanding service in filling the void left when the county library closed, BTBTCL was named the 2017 Subregional Library/Advisory and Outreach Center of the Year.

Every year, NLS recognizes two network libraries with awards—a regional library and a subregional library or advisory and outreach center. A committee of librarians and consumer-organization representatives chooses finalists based on mission support, creativity, innovation in providing service, and demonstrated reader satisfaction. The NLS director makes the final selection.
Each winning library receives a plaque and a $1,000 cash prize.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped hosts the annual Network Library of the Year Awards luncheon, May 17, 2018. Photo by Shawn Miller.
From left: Karen Keninger, NLS director; Mark Sweeney, principal deputy librarian of Congress; Gene Hainer, assistant commissioner, Colorado State Library; Debbi MacLeod, director, Colorado Talking Book Library; and, from Braille and Talking Books at Taylor Community Library, Sarah Roe, braille and talking books paraprofessional, and Vanessa Verdun-Morris, assistant library director. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“Libraries work best when their patrons invest time and energy in their services just as libraries invest time and energy in their patrons,” NLS Director Karen Keninger said. “Libraries create communities in much the same way they develop collections or initiate and maintain services.”

The Colorado Talking Book Library tries in many ways to create a sense of belonging to a community. “Our patrons tell us that we change the quality of their lives,” library Director Debbi MacLeod said. “They are less isolated and less depressed.”

The CTBL’s more than 200 volunteers are part of that community too. They contributed 24,777 hours in 2017—about 2½ hours a week per volunteer. The Volunteer Outreach Group makes 1,000 phone calls and sends out 750 outreach packets annually.

Those efforts have been recognized at home, too: the Colorado Library Association chose CTBL as its Library of the Year in 2017.
Braille and Talking Books at Taylor Community Library was created to fill the void after the Wayne County Braille and Talking Book Library in Westland, Michigan, closed In July 2015, shutting out an entire community of blind and disabled people from library services. The following year, the city of Taylor, also in Wayne County, dedicated part of its community library to serving these patrons.

Since then, BTBTCL has been providing library services beyond those of its predecessor, including regularly scheduled events such as assistive technology discussion groups, book reading clubs, and the monthly meet-up of the VIPs—the Visually Impaired Persons support group.

“We’re so lucky to have Taylor Community Library invest the time and money to create a more inclusive library environment,” BTBTCL Assistant Director Vanessa Verdun-Morris said. That has allowed community groups such as the VIPs to flourish. In a letter supporting BTBTCL’s application, members of the VIP group said they “have witnessed firsthand the amazing and caring support that the library and its staff give to each and every participant.”

Library of Congress Principal Deputy Librarian Mark Sweeney spoke at the awards luncheon, which was held in the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C.

Read more about the Colorado and Michigan libraries’ award-winning work.

Behind the Scenes: Network Library Awards — May 17, 2018

Photos by Mark Layman and Shawn Miller

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner with Gene Hainer and Debbi MacLeod
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (center) with Gene Hainer and Debbi MacLeod. Photo by Shawn Miller.
NLS patron Andrew Zatman seated at the piano next to his wife Marilyn Briant
NLS patron Andrew Zatman, who provided music for the luncheon, and his wife Marilyn Briant.
Christopher Goodbeer
Christopher Goodbeer, braille transcriber at Indiana University.
Brian Charlston and Marci Carpenter
Brian Charlston, representing the American Council of the Blind, and Marci Carpenter, president of the Washington State chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (in the background, Kim Charlson, executive director of the Perkins Library, talks with Keri Wilkins, director of the Philadelphia Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped).
Sue Chinault and MaryBeth Wise
Sue Chinault (left), Midlands Conference Chair, and MaryBeth Wise, NLS network consultant.

Five photos showing guests and NLS staff interacting at the luncheon.

NLS Music Section gets the word out about digital archiving

By Claire Rojstaczer

In April 2018 the Society for Imaging Science and Technology gathered in Washington, D.C., for a four-day conference focused on digital archiving for preservation and access. The NLS Music Section—represented by music specialists Donna Koh and Katherine Rodda—was one of the first items on the agenda.

Koh and Rodda had never presented a paper before when NLS Music Section head Juliette Appold approached them about the Archiving 2018 conference, which drew 180 attendees from 17 countries, but they were eager to pursue the opportunity. The Music Section has been experimenting with techniques and tools for digitizing braille music since 2003, which makes them experts in an unusual field.

Donna and Katie review a digital braille music scan
Donna Koh (left) and Katherine Rodda presented their paper on digitizing braille music at the international Archiving 2018 conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“Music XML is a hot subject right now,” Rodda said, referring to a way of digitally encoding musical scores so they can easily be parsed and manipulated by computers, “and there’s ongoing research into how to convert music XML to braille.” Koh picked up the thread: “But there’s not much out there about digitizing hardcopy braille music. That’s where we’re different—we’re focused on scanning.”

Their paper, “Digitizing Braille Music: A Case Study,” summarizes the history of both braille music and the NLS Music Section before discussing the two specific software packages currently in use: Optical Braille Recognition (OBR) and DotScan. Both, the paper explains, have their challenges. OBR scans quickly and can capture both sides of an inter-point braille page in a single scan, but requires braille music code fluency to proofread. DotScan provides a visual interface that allows sighted employees to proofread the image on the screen against the physical document, but it handles inter-point braille and braille with uneven spacing poorly.

“There was lots of interest from attendees,” Koh said, “but the direction of their questions surprised us. We were focused on the software, but the audience was more curious about the scanning process, not the interpretation process. They wanted to discuss the potential of using mechanical brushes or lasers instead of optical scanning.”

Those questions—and the things they learned from other conference presentations on 3D imaging and texture—had an effect. “Since attending the conference,” Koh said, “my approach is totally different. Now I’m thinking about ways to get a better image using different hardware.”

Those thoughts may shape future revisions of their paper, which they hope to present at other conferences. “The more we can get the word out,” Rodda said, “the more we can collaborate with people who have more knowledge. No one knows we’re doing this but us.” Reaching out to the attendees at Archiving 2018 was only the first step in changing that.

Mister Raj’s long journey takes a new turn

By Mark Layman

Yealuri Rathan Raj could hardly have come to the United States at a less auspicious time.

He arrived in Washington, D.C., from India in July 1967, in the midst of the Summer of Love. But it was also the Long Hot Summer of race riots in Newark, Detroit, and other American cities. That October, 100,000 Vietnam War protesters rallied at the Lincoln Memorial and encircled the Pentagon, where poet Allen Ginsberg chanted in a symbolic attempt to levitate the building and soldiers held demonstrators back at bayonet-point.
“I had never seen so many people protesting,” Raj recalled recently. “The country was in turmoil.”

Raj, who had left his hometown near the Bay of Bengal with a scholarship to study at Howard University’s School of Divinity, also witnessed the violence that erupted in Washington after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the following April. “It was scary,” he said, “especially the people looting and burning. I tried to stay far away from it.” And in June 1968, he watched on a borrowed black-and-white TV as another murdered Kennedy brother was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Raj sits smiling at his desk
NLS Overseas Librarian Yealuri Rathan Raj, who is retiring this year, says the best part of his job has been “the satisfaction I get from serving people who are blind and handicapped and knowing what NLS means to them.”

Still, the social and political chaos of his first year in Washington didn’t discourage Raj from his dreams. And this fall, a half-century later, he is retiring as overseas librarian at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a position he has held since 1989.
Raj—known to his coworkers by his last name, or as “Mister Raj”—didn’t find many opportunities to become a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church after he graduated from Howard, so he taught 6th grade in a parochial school. Later he got a job in the library at Howard, went to night school at the University of Maryland to get a master’s degree in library science, and became a U.S. citizen.

As the NLS overseas librarian, Raj provides direct service from his always-tidy cubicle to several hundred patrons who live abroad—most of them in Canada, Mexico, Israel, and South America. He makes sure applicants qualify for service and gets them enrolled; mails them talking-book cartridges, magazines, and machines; and works with them to solve technical or logistical problems.

One of the most common problems Raj has to deal with is overseas postal officials who aren’t familiar with UNESCO’s Nairobi Protocol of 1976, whose signatories agreed not to impose import taxes on books and other materials for blind people. Usually, a forwarded copy of the Nairobi Protocol and a confirmation from Raj that the package contains free matter for the blind clears up any confusion. As for the patrons, “I always tell them not to pay a penny,” he said.

Of course, many patrons don’t have to worry about international mail delivery anymore because they download their books via BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service. In the 2017 fiscal year, overseas patrons received 8,104 braille and audio books and magazines by mail—but downloaded more than twice that many.

One of those downloaders is Bev Collins, who became a patron after being diagnosed with uncontrolled glaucoma. She is sailing around the world with her husband on their Seattle-based yacht, the Mersoleil. “I love the NLS program for overseas citizens, the mobile apps on my Android and iPad, and the hundreds of books I’ve been able to enjoy since I discovered BARD in 2013,” Collins said. “But when I think of NLS, I think of Raj. NLS could not have a better ambassador.

“Raj is kind, gentle, patient, responsive and warm. He responds to my emails as if nothing could possibly be more important, and always adds a thoughtful comment or two from the heart regarding what I’ve recently read or something I said.”

Because he is usually the only point of contact that overseas patrons have with NLS, Raj has gotten to know many of them, albeit from afar. He recalls one in Oaxaca, Mexico, the widow of an admiral who donated all of his books to the local library. “She used to write long, long letters to me. I miss her very much.” A patron from Israel and her husband stopped by NLS to visit Raj on a trip to the United States. “They gave me a shekel,” he said, smiling at the memory.

Raj has already cut back his schedule to three days a week, part of the Library of Congress phased retirement program. Once his retirement is official at the end of September, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife of fifty-one years, Premkumari Rathan Raj, a retired office manager at the World Bank, and their two children—a son who is a physician in Portland, Oregon, and a daughter who is a senior health development officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Washington area. He also plans to spend time with his extended family back in India, volunteer at his church or a local library, and enjoy—or try to enjoy—watching Washington’s hapless football team (although he gave up his season’s tickets last year).

What has Raj most enjoyed about his long career at NLS? “It’s the satisfaction I get from serving people who are blind and handicapped and knowing what NLS means to them,” he said.

And overseas patrons need not worry—NLS plans to continue exemplary services for U.S citizens living abroad who benefit from special-format materials.

Network Exchange

Georgia: Congratulations to Patricia Herndon, director of Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLAS), patricia-herndon-cropwinner of the 2018 Francis Joseph Campbell Award! The award, which is administered by the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), is given each year to a person or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of library service for people with physical disabilities or impairments.In nominating her for the award, Fontaine M. Huey of Atlanta’s Center for the Visually Impaired said Herndon should be recognized “for her leadership, strategic vision, and hard work to make library services available to all who need them regardless of geographic location in the state.”

Herndon will be honored at the ASCLA Achievement Awards Ceremony on June 23 during the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

• • •

California: More than 150 children, teachers, and adult guests attended the Braille Institute Library’s open house in Los Angeles on April 19. Events included a trivia contest and a poetry contest, and a dozen organizations set up tables at the event’s Senior Resource Fair. The guest speaker was Jill Fox (left), who has narrated more than 1,000 books for the American Printing House for the Blind. Edward Gomez, a student at Los Angeles City College, shared stories about the challenges that he faced growing up as the only member of his family with a visual impairment.



• • •

Tennessee: The Tennessee Library for the Blind—host library for this year’s NLS national conference—got a new name this spring: it’s now the Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the new name focuses on serving patrons without using outdated language to define them solely by their disabilities. The library is located within the Tennessee State Library and Archives in downtown Nashville. Both will move to a new facility nearby in late 2019.

• • •

Three women build small sculptures from Cojiformfrom
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped hosted an event on May 11 with artist Isaac Bower. The interactive, tactile “playshop” allowed attendees to create and build with modular cast shapes called Cojiform—nature-inspired pieces that can be built into sculptures, encouraging hands–on play, creative thinking, and community.





The back page

Two girls and a boy pose for photos with big smiles.
Adelle McFarland, Katherine Brown, and Noah Hibbard pose for photos after the Second Annual Regional Braille Challenge for the State of Ohio, held March 2 at Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Cincinnati. Fifty students with the highest scores in regional events held across the United States and Canada go on to compete in the finals at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.