NLS honors Libraries of the Year
NLS staff speak at consumer group conventions
Back page: American Council of the Blind honors NLS Director Karen Keninger
NLS honors Oklahoma and San Francisco libraries for service to print-disabled readers
By Mark Layman
The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) honored two of its cooperating libraries in August for their outstanding service to readers who are visually or physically disabled.
The Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Oklahoma City received the Regional Library of the Year Award. The Talking Books and Braille Center at the San Francisco Public Library in California received the Sub-regional Library/Advisory and Outreach Center of the Year Award.
Each prize comes with a $1,000 award and a commemorative plaque. The two libraries will be honored later this year at NLS’s biennial meeting, which will be held virtually, and at a luncheon in the historic Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., planned for the spring of 2021.
“Each year the Library of Congress recognizes the work of state and local libraries that provide braille and talking-book services to people who cannot use print materials,” NLS Director Karen Keninger said. “The programs and services these two libraries offer are outstanding examples of innovation and outreach and demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that all may read.”
Director Kevin Treese and his staff at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (OLBPH) served 5,402 patrons last year and circulated more than 150,000 braille and audio books, magazines and other collection items.
OLBPH, a unit of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, has innovative programs to expand access to information to people with print disabilities. It manages the Oklahoma Telephone Reader, a dial-up information service staffed by volunteers that features local articles of interest, ads and obituaries from Oklahoma newspapers. And the library’s Accessible Instructional Materials Center provides textbooks in braille, large print and assistive technology to 1,258 school-age children.
The Oklahoma library’s staff spread the word about its services at large state conferences, including LeadingAge, the Oklahoma Transition Institute and the Oklahoma Library Association. The staff also participated in the Oklahoma Book Festival.
“I live by myself, and over the years I have spent hundreds of hours listening to your books. Please don’t ever stop.” —OLBH patron
OLBPH’s recording studio has contributed more than 100 items to BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download website, including 56 issues of “Cowboys & Indians” magazine, 28 issues of “Oklahoma Today” and 21 books of regional interest.
The Oklahoma Library Association honored the library last year with its Library Excellence Award.
In nominating OLBPH for NLS Network Library of the Year, Melinda Fruendt, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, called it “a treasure.”
A comment from one patron captured the role the library plays in the lives of those it serves: “I live by myself, and over the years I have spent hundreds of hours listening to your books. Please don’t ever stop.”
San Francisco’s Talking Books and Braille Center (TBBC) served nearly 900 patrons in 2019 and circulated 31,290 braille and audio books, magazines and other items — two-thirds of them via BARD.
The center’s monthly programs include its Talking Book Club, a large-print book club called Easy on the Eyes and audio-described movies that are shown in the main library’s auditorium. It hosts frequent musical jams, with patrons bringing their own instruments or using the library’s drums and keyboard; quarterly braille story times for children; and the annual Hooray for Braille! celebration with the San Francisco chapter of the California Council of the Blind.
The library’s outreach efforts include partnering with the San Francisco Public Library’s Jail and Reentry Service to help prisoners with print disabilities. It also worked with the San Francisco Department of Elections to provide voter information in accessible formats.
“Our library represents community and a joy in reading,” Jane Glasby, program manager of the Talking Books and Braille Center, said in her nomination letter. “Our staff is not afraid to explore new technologies to support patrons where they need it most.”
One of those patrons told the library, “I have been bedridden and this past week I have travelled all over the world through the books you sent me.” Another put it more simply: “Many an evening, those talking books keep me sane.”
Who are the most popular authors on BARD?
BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service, has more than 100 subject-search categories, including the recently added LGBTQ+. We were curious about the most popular subject and author searches on BARD and pulled the stats from the first half of 2020.
The most popular search subject, by far, was Mystery and Detective Stories, followed by Western Stories, Bestsellers and Romance. (Most books on BARD are assigned multiple subject categories.)
The most frequently searched-for authors were Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, James Patterson, John Grisham and Stuart Woods.
If you’re an NLS patron and aren’t signed up for BARD, it’s easy to get started! Find out more at www.loc.gov/nls/braille-audio-reading-materials/bard-access.
More NLS patron surveys are on the way
By Mark Layman
Last year, NLS teamed up with the Gallup polling and research company to survey current and potential patrons—more than 5,000 in all—about a variety of topics, including their access to and ability to use technology.
Now NLS is planning two more surveys with Gallup to follow up on what it learned last year.
“A lot of really good stuff came out of last year’s survey,” said David Spett, NLS’s data analyst. “For instance, we learned that our patrons are pretty evenly split between those who are very tech-savvy, not tech-savvy and somewhere in between.
“A majority of our patrons have technology that would enable them to use BARD (the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service)—a computer or smartphone or tablet with Internet access,” he said. “But most of those people are not using BARD. We had previously believed that lack of technology or Internet access was the problem, but that seems to not necessarily be the case. A lot of people said they don’t use BARD because they prefer mail delivery or aren’t comfortable with newer technology.”
The first of the upcoming surveys will seek to determine patrons’ satisfaction with various facets of NLS service, their technological preferences and capacities and their willingness to use—or barriers that keep them from using—BARD and the BARD Mobile app.
In the second survey, Gallup will interview former patrons, or current patrons who have stopped using BARD, to gain insights into why they discontinued their NLS or BARD service.
“Findings from these surveys will improve our understanding of the best way to modernize and improve our operations,” Spett said. “And by also surveying former patrons and former BARD users, we hope to learn how we can reduce attrition from the program.”
Gallup will also survey the patrons taking part in a pilot test of two refreshable braille displays, or eReaders, commissioned by NLS. Participants in the pilot are testing the ease of use and reliability of the two eReader models—one produced by HumanWare, the other by Zoomax. Besides measuring participants’ satisfaction with the eReaders, Gallup will also ask about the adequacy of the training they received and how that training could be improved.
NLS hopes to start loaning eReaders to patrons who read braille next year. In 2016 NLS’s enabling legislation was changed to allow it to loan refreshable braille displays in addition to audio playback equipment. Patrons with a refreshable braille display can download and read digital braille files instead of receiving bulky volumes of hardcopy braille through the mail.
NLS staff speak at consumer group conventions
NLS Director Karen Keninger and other NLS staff recently discussed the latest developments at NLS during two prominent annual conventions. The American Council of the Blind held its (virtual) annual convention July 3–10, and the National Federation of the Blind held its (virtual) annual convention July 14–18.
Keninger’s ACB discussion is available at https://bit.ly/3fDbla7External. Other NLS-related content can be found by typing “NLS” in the search function at www.acbradio.org/acb-convention External. Information about the 2020 NFB convention can be found at www.nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention External.
From the darkness, a remarkable career and a lifelong friend
By Claire Rojstaczer
Sanford Greenberg headed off to Columbia University from his hometown of Buffalo, New York, in 1958, the first in his family to seek higher education.
That family, he recalls, “had to fight some pretty great odds.” His father, who had fled Europe in the 1930s to escape the Holocaust, died when Greenberg was five. Greenberg’s mother struggled to support her three children before marrying a local junk dealer. Even then, though, the family was not well-off.
That may help explain why Greenberg’s vision problems were originally misdiagnosed and mistreated.
“My eyes failed slowly, over a period of months,” Greenberg says. He and his mother finally traveled to see a leading expert on glaucoma in Detroit in 1961, only to face a blunt assessment from the doctor: “‘Well, son, you’re going to be blind tomorrow.’”
In despair, Greenberg considered dropping out of college. “My life,” he says frankly, “felt in ruins.”
But one person wouldn’t let him give up: his roommate Arthur. “He would guide me to class, take me around the city—but most importantly, he would read to me,” Greenberg explains. “When I returned to Columbia, many of my friends dropped me, because I was no longer ‘in the race.’ But Arthur never lost confidence in me.”
Greenberg went on to a successful career as an inventor and entrepreneur. And Arthur? You know him as Art Garfunkel, partner of Paul Simon in one of the most successful musical duos ever.
As Greenberg recounts in his recently released memoir, “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life,” Garfunkel’s voice was the thread that drew him back into the world.
Garfunkel wasn’t Greenberg’s only source of reading material. “I had this gargantuan reel-to-reel tape recorder, but it was very frustrating, because the speed was 150 words a minute. It was too slow,” Greenberg recalls. “And when I tried to speed the tape along, all I got was distortion.” It’s a frustration many people shared in the early days of the tape recorder—but Greenberg channeled that frustration into action. “I came up with an idea of how I could speed up the sound to as fast as I could read, and I began to think it through.”
The resulting design, patented in 1969, was one of the earliest methods for time-scale modification of speech. Greenberg licensed the device to Sony, General Electric, Matsushita and other manufacturers of audio equipment and still recalls with pride having his first contract signed by Sony founder Akio Morita himself.
“To my knowledge, we didn’t directly use his 1969 patent in our products, but some of the concepts are likely to have been included,” says longtime NLS senior staff engineer Lloyd Rasmussen, who recalls many attempts to incorporate time-scale modification into NLS players. “We were certainly interested in this technology. It’s a complex problem with several fundamentally different approaches, and the patents all have dependencies on one another.”
Variable speech technology was only one of the things to occupy Greenberg’s time during the 1960s. After completing a PhD at Harvard, he was accepted into the second year of President Johnson’s White House Fellows program in 1966. Greenberg and his wife Sue were only 25 years old. “There was a moment at our first White House reception,” he recalls, “when we realized the president was standing three feet away, and my wife started shaking.”
The personal connections Greenberg developed in Washington—and the observations he made while working for President Johnson’s Interdepartmental Committee on the Technological Gap—proved critical to his future successes. He became passionate about the importance of a skilled labor force and went on to found EDP Technology (later ECC International) and several other firms devoted to technology and training.
Now 79, Greenberg lives in Washington, D.C.’s storied Watergate complex and chairs the Board of Governors at Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute. In 2012, he and his wife spearheaded the creation of the Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize to End Blindness by 2020: $3 million to be awarded to “the most major breakthrough in restoration of vision in human patients,” as determined by an advisory council of scientists. “December 14 will be the date,” Greenberg says, although he acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic may interfere with the plan for an in-person ceremony.
“I made a promise to God in the hospital in Detroit,” Greenberg says, “that for the rest of my life I would do everything I could to prevent anyone else from going blind. Not until the beginning of this century did I feel that science was at the point where you could make the claim that you could end blindness. But I believe we are there now.”
Though he isn’t a braille reader, Greenberg recognizes the value of the medium. “It is so sacred, so important to open the world for people who cannot read. I would feel honored if my book could be converted to braille.” NLS intends to do exactly that, as well as recording it in audio.
Greenberg began his memoir at Harvard in the 1960s. “I sat down and wrote 40 pages, and then I set them away for 40 years,” he recalls. “Those were the core. I still have the original typewritten manuscript and keep it close to hand.” The opening of “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend”—the title borrows the first line of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”—draws heavily on that first draft, though Greenberg’s life has grown in ways he might never have imagined when he typed those early pages.
Some things, though, remain the same. “Arthur and I still talk regularly about books, philosophy and the joy of life—and when I’m having a bad day, I go into my study, lie down and listen to [the Simon and Garfunkel albums] ‘Sounds of Silence’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water,’” Greenberg says.
In their dorm room at Columbia, Art Garfunkel would announce to his roommate—using the nickname he gave himself—“Darkness is going to read to you” before launching into the “Iliad” or other texts. Sixty years later, his voice remains a steady source of comfort and support.
The Federal Register published a regulation in July to officially allow NLS to fully participate in the cross-border exchange of braille and audio books under the auspices of the Marrakesh Treaty. To that end, in partnership with the Accessible Book Consortium (ABC), NLS is testing a new interface being established by ABC’s Global Book Service, an online repository of hundreds of thousands of titles from around the world. Eight of NLS’s network libraries are testing the new interface to assess its utility. At the conclusion of the four-month pilot, NLS will determine whether the portal is ready for possible use network-wide.
The Senate ratified, and President Trump signed, the Marrakesh Treaty in 2019. The treaty was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization to increase the availability of books published in special formats that are accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
You can read more about NLS’s implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty at www.loc.gov/nls/about/organization/laws-regulations/marrakesh-treaty.
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NLS’s latest digital outreach campaign launched on June 1 after a delay of two months due to coronavirus-related closures of network libraries.
The campaign began with keyword search ads on major search engines. In August the campaign added brand awareness advertising—general information ads intended to build interest in the program—and advertisements that encourage eligible people to apply for the program. Those advertisements are running on multiple social media platforms. The campaign will continue through late 2021.
Pioneer of the NLS flexible disc program dies
Rudy Savage, who championed the use of flexible discs for the NLS magazine program and founded Talking Book Publishers Inc. in Denver, Colorado, died in September.
In the mid-1960s, Savage worked with NLS to research the use of flexible plastic discs produced by Eva-tone Soundsheets for the NLS magazine program. He discovered that five of the flexible discs could be produced and mailed for the same cost as one vinyl disc. NLS could also mail the discs directly to patrons instead of shipping them to libraries for circulation.
“NLS was recording its magazines on heavy rigid discs and had a three- to four-person waiting list for many,” Savage recalled years later. “NLS was able to eliminate that waiting list because of [the Eva-tone] technology. Patrons received their magazines at nearly the same time as newsstands received theirs.”
In 1989 the National Federation of the Blind honored Savage with its Newel Perry Award for his work to improve the quality of life for blind people. “The flexible disc program, which has been a standard feature of library service for the blind for many years, was pioneered and developed by Rudy Savage,” NFB president Kenneth Jernigan said in presenting the award.
Talking Book Publishers has been producing audio books and magazines for NLS for more than half a century. John Bryant, retired head of NLS Production Control, said, “I was always amazed by this: an issue would come up, we would contact them, and the next day Rudy would show up at the door. He would fly in from Denver and be there to make sure everything was taken care of right away. I could see how persistent he must have been when he was trying to get NLS to use the flexible discs."
American Council of the Blind honors NLS’s Karen Keninger
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) bestowed its Robert S. Bray Award on NLS Director Karen A. Keninger during its national convention in July. The award is given to a person who has contributed to improving library technology or communication devices, expanding access for blind people or making opportunities within the mainstream media.
ACB established the award in 1975 to honor Robert S. Bray, chief of the Library of Congress’s Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the precursor to NLS.
In nominating Keninger for the award, former ACB president Kim Charlson noted that under Keninger’s leadership, NLS has developed apps for iOS and Android mobile devices and reached agreements with commercial publishers to make their audiobooks available to NLS patrons. “She is also a strong proponent of braille and has made it a priority at NLS,” Charlson wrote. “She is a recognized leader in the areas of library and information access, assistive technology, and braille literacy. . . . Along with her devoted Seeing Eye dog, Jimi, she travels all over the globe to promote access to information and literacy for all people—regardless of their abilities or disabilities.”.
Keninger has served as director of NLS since 2012. Before coming to Washington, D.C., she was director of the Iowa Department for the Blind and, for eight years, director of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, part of the NLS network. She was president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind in 2012.
Keninger is the Marrakesh Treaty liaison and a member of the standing committee of the Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities section of IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.