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News October-December 2019


A new name; the same mission

Dungeons & Dragons made accessible

Pianist and patron José André Montaño

NLS mourns longtime engineer

Exhibit schedule

Network Exchange

U.S. Census

We have a new name—but our mission remains the same

The Library of Congress braille and talking-book program has had several names over its 88 years. It began as Project, Books for the Adult Blind and later became the Division of Books for the Adult Blind. In 1966, after legislation extended service to “physically handicapped readers certified by competent authority as unable to read normal printed material as a result of physical limitations,” it became the Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Then in 1978, as part of a major reorganization of the Library of Congress, it was renamed the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, popularly known as NLS.

On October 1, NLS again got a new name: the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. The new name reflects changing attitudes toward use of the word “handicapped” and better reflects the range of people NLS serves.

“Both NLS and the Library of Congress sought input from stakeholder groups and gathered data regarding this change,” NLS Director Karen Keninger said. “We also heard from members of the public through emails, in-person interactions at events and channels such as Facebook.

“In keeping with the strategic plan of the Library of Congress, our new name is patron-centric. As with all of our work, it puts the emphasis on the people we serve.”

The new name also picks up on language used in the international Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, which went into force in the United States this past May. The Marrakesh Treaty makes the production and international transfer of accessible books easier by establishing a set of limitations and exceptions to traditional copyright law.

The Spanish form of the new name is Servicio Nacional de Bibliotecas para personas ciegas o con dificultades para acceder al texto impreso.

For day-to-day purposes, the program will continue to go by the widely known acronym NLS.

NLS provides service through a national network of around 100 libraries and advisory and outreach centers, many of which use some form of the previous name. In recent years, some have chosen to change their names. In the spring of 2018, for example, the Tennessee Library for the Blind became the Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media. But that’s a local decision for libraries and their parent agencies to make.

With the name change comes a new brand identity. Our new logo includes the new name and complements the brand identity and color scheme the Library of Congress adopted in 2018.

One longtime NLS patron had this to say on our Facebook page: “I love the new name, because ‘physically handicapped’ is such [an] old term. ‘Print disabled’ is a better term for all NLS does to make sure all people have access to books.”

The name change punctuates an exciting time at NLS. Currently under development is an affordable refreshable braille display, or eReader, that NLS would distribute to patrons who read braille books and magazines. Projects are also underway to prepare NLS for a future where service is centered around BARD, the online Braille and Audio Reading Download service. You can read more about those and other new initiatives in the January–March 2019 issue of News.

NLS produces Dungeons & Dragons core books in navigable audio

By Mark Schwartz
If you’ve ever attacked a cave full of Orcs with your Vorpol Sword, right after losing 12 Hit Points that lowered your Strength score (which you mitigated with a Cure Wounds spell), you might already know the fun of playing Dungeons & Dragons—D&D to its fans.

Because it’s a role-playing game, a shared experience between a Dungeon Master who describes events and players who describe how they want their characters to respond, D&D is an ideal game for players with visual impairments.

Several multi-sided dice
Photo illustration by Diacritica External

“At its heart, it’s about using your imagination,” said Megan McArdle, an NLS senior selection librarian. So it makes sense for NLS to make D&D books accessible for its patrons.

“I checked our holdings,” McArdle said, “and saw that even though we had not updated it since we did it back in the 1980s, the D&D Basic Rule Book by Gary Gygax still got a respectable number of downloads on BARD,” the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download website.

Clearly, the demand was there for NLS to take on a bigger D&D project to address requests from the large community of visually impaired players. So a team formed to update the D&D collection at NLS.

McArdle and Vincent Castellucci, a production control specialist, agreed that NLS should produce all three core Dungeons & Dragons books, starting with the Player’s Handbook (DB 91838).

When NLS released the fifth edition of the Player’s Handbook in fully navigable audio format this summer, D&D players were delighted.

“Fantastic to be part of a mainstream gaming community that is making their visually impaired players feel so welcome,” one wrote on the NLS Facebook page. Another wrote, “I’m not sure I can describe how happy this makes me!”

Two other core D&D books—the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DB 91839) and the Monster Manual (DB 91840)—are also now on BARD.

The project was a complex one for producers and narrators, especially because of the difficulty of accurately replicating a print-book experience for visually impaired readers.

One challenge was including descriptions of charts and graphics that are essential to game play. Another was figuring out how to correctly pronounce the name of monsters and magical items, such as the magical mini-submarine in the world of D&D, otherwise known as an Apparatus of Kwalish.

For the latter, NLS went to Wizards of the Coast, D&D’s publisher. “They offered to help with pronunciations and provide other primary sources we might need during the recording process,” Castellucci said. “Wizards was very responsive, and even their franchise creative director, Mike Mearls, helped with our producers’ pronunciation questions.”

“As a player, watching these books go through the selection process and being able to add them to NLS’s collection has been very exciting,” Castellucci said.

For McArdle, there was an added bonus. “As I researched what books to get for D&D players,” she said, “it was fascinating to read about the work folks are doing in the arena of making board games accessible.”

Passion and feeling are the keys for young piano prodigy

By Mark Layman
José André Montaño showed no signs of nervousness as he waited backstage with his parents and members of the José André Trio before his concert at the Library of Congress on November 7.

NLS patron José André Montaño playing piano
Fourteen-year-old NLS patron José André Montaño performed with his jazz trio at the Library of Congress on November 7
José André, bassist Eliot Seppa and drummer Kelton Norris
Above, José André, bassist Eliot Seppa (left) and drummer Kelton Norris pose after the sound check.

But why would he? The 14-year-old has performed on stages around the world, from his native Bolivia to Rome, Kuala Lumpur, and Finland. He’s headlined at Washington, D.C., nightclub Blues Alley. This past summer, First Lady Melania Trump was in the audience when José André performed on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage as part of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition concert. He’s met moon-walking astronaut Buzz Aldrin and even got a Facebook shout-out from actor Will Smith.

So playing a 70-minute set before a crowd of more than 300 at Coolidge Auditorium? No sweat. “I don’t really get nervous when I’m playing piano, because I can feel the instrument,” he said. “I just chill out when I play piano.”

José André, who moved to Washington, D.C., with his parents several years ago, has been winning acclaim for his music since he was in elementary school. Blind since birth, he also has cerebral palsy, but began teaching himself piano when he was three. “I really feel the passion when I play the piano,” he said. “It’s difficult to put it in words—it’s just a very good feeling.”

His music, a mix of covers and original compositions, bridges jazz, rock, blues, and bossa nova. José André’s penchant for improvisation keeps his bandmates—bassist Eliot Seppa and drummer Kelton Norris for the November 7 concert—on their toes. “We sometimes go over a part with the trio,” he said, “but on stage I change it in that instant because I really like to mess around with the song. I don’t try to do the same thing over and over again.”

While music has brought him a measure of fame, José André is a pretty typical teenager away from the spotlight.

“I usually practice an hour each day when I come back from school,” he said. “I like to play games on my computer. I love playing with my phone. And eating pizza and pasta with my friends from school. I always have a ton of other things to do besides playing piano.” He’s a big soccer fan, too, and got to meet his favorite Bolivian club, The Strongest, at their training facility.

Of course, many young musicians look to José André as a role model. “If they ask me for any advice, I say don’t give up and just do whatever you like to do with passion and feeling,” he said before taking the stage.

“No matter what disability you have in life you can do sports, you can do music, you can do dancing, you can do art—anything. But the important thing is, you have to do it with all your heart and all your passion.”

You can watch a recording of the José André Trio’s Library of Congress concert External.

Colleagues remember NLS engineer Abdelraouf Amin as ‘gentlemanly, professional and devout’

By Claire Rojstaczer
NLS engineer Abdelraouf Amin passed away unexpectedly this summer surrounded by his family, who were visiting for the July 4th holiday. He had worked at NLS for 38 years.

Abdelraouf Amin
Abdelraouf Amin (left) and fellow NLS engineer Lloyd Rasmussen visit a production contractor in the early 1980s.

Raouf, as he was known to his colleagues, developed NLS specifications for decades, from the early cassette machines to the current NLS headphones. He managed the drawing process and, as the keeper of the audio testing equipment and processes, was the first person at NLS to work with computerized testing equipment for audio products.

“We would write specifications, a contractor would build them, and then we would test them and say, ‘No, this isn’t quite right,’” fellow NLS engineer Lloyd Rasmussen explained, remembering Raouf’s early days at NLS in the 1980s. “We did more traveling in those days to companies that produced for us. Raouf and I would sometimes travel together.”

Lloyd further remembered Raouf as a kind and helpful colleague. “He told me that his name meant Servant of God, and that described his personality. He was always ready to serve. For a long time, NLS Recording Studio narrators would come to him to check on the pronunciation of Arabic words and phrases.”

NLS equipment specialist Kevin Watson, who worked with Raouf for 29 years, agreed. “Raouf was very gentlemanly, very professional, very devout—a family man who could quote chapter and verse of the Quran.”

A naturalized citizen who was born in Egypt, Raouf was fluent in English, French and Arabic. His surviving family includes two daughters, a son, two grandchildren and two siblings. His wife died in 2018.

NLS 2020 exhibit schedule

Date Event Location
November 14–16, 2019 American Association of School Librarians Louisville, Kentucky
February 17–20 Learning Disabilities Association of America Orlando, Florida
February 25–29 Public Library Association Nashville, Tennessee
February 26–March 1 Music Library Association Norfolk, Virginia
March 21–25 Music Teachers National Association Chicago, Illinois
March 24–27 Aging in America Atlanta, Georgia
March 26–29 American Occupational Therapy Association Boston, Massachusetts
April 21–24 National Association of Activity Professionals Reno, Nevada
May 3–6 American College of Health Care Administrators New Orleans, Louisiana
June 14–17 National Association of Social Workers Washington, DC
June 15–16 Native American Healthcare Conference Temecula, California
June 24–28 American Optometric Association Washington, DC
June 25–30 American Library Association Chicago, Illinois
July 3–10 American Council of the Blind Schaumburg, Illinois
July 14–19 National Federation of the Blind Houston, Texas
July 20–24 Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Palm Desert, California
July 22–26 Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired St. Louis, Missouri
August 1–4 Disabled American Veterans Dallas, Texas
August 12–16 Blinded Veterans Association Washington, DC
August 14–17 American Association of Diabetes Educators Atlanta, Georgia
August 28–September 3 American Legion National Conference Louisville, Kentucky

Network exchange

NLS is always excited to spread the word about our services, so we were thrilled to see our network library in New York City, the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, get some well-deserved local media attention during October, Blindness Awareness Month. A story on Fox 5 NY’s evening news focused on the library’s braille eReader pilot and included an in-studio interview with Chief Librarian Jill Rothstein and Assistive Technology Coordinator Chancey Fleet External. Fleet also was interviewed on WNYC’s “All Of It” External. Local cable news network Spectrum News NY1 External and its Spanish-language counterpart, Spectrum Noticias NY1 (, also did features on the library.

Listening is Reading promotional handout

Meanwhile, Ilia Desjardins, supervisor of the Talking Book Center in Staunton, Virginia, was interviewed for a segment of “Hear Together” on WNRN External, a nonprofit radio station that’s heard through much of central Virginia.

NLS network libraries are getting creative with their own public education and outreach materials too. The Talking Book Department at the North Dakota State Library produced a YouTube video titled “A Day in the Life of a Talking Book” External. It shows how a book is chosen to be recorded, how a book cartridge is prepared to mail to a patron and what happens when it’s returned.

The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library in Seattle created a rack card (above) focused on older adults.

Congratulations to James Dimick, a longtime volunteer with the New Hampshire Talking Book Services Library, on receiving a Volunteer Service Award at Volunteer NH’s 2019 Spirit of NH Awards. Dimick works with fellow volunteers A.J. Johnson, Gerry Breault, and Kim Brown to repair, clean, update, and maintain the library’s digital talking-book players—nearly 700 so far this year.

Todd Rundgren

Singer, songwriter and producer Todd Rundgren stopped by the Library of Congress on October 21 to present a signed braille copy of his recent autobiography—which was produced for him by a fan and NLS patron who is blind. From left to right, Library of Congress Deputy Librarian Mark Sweeney, NLS Director Karen Keninger, Rundgren and NLS Deputy Director Jason Yasner in the Librarian of Congress’s ceremonial office in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Photo by Shawn Miller.

The 2020 census is counting on us

It’s not too early to start thinking about the 2020 census. This coming April 1 is Census Day, the reference point for questions on the 2020 count.

Census results play a big part in determining how the federal government, states and localities allocate hundreds of billions of dollars each year for services that communities rely on. But certain groups of people historically have been undercounted in the census. NLS wants to make sure that the people it serves—people who are blind or visually impaired, or who have a disability that makes reading regular print difficult—are aware of, and participate in, the 2020 census.

A few dates to keep in mind: On March 12, the Census Bureau will mail households an invitation to respond to the census. For the first time, households will have three ways to respond: online, by calling a toll-free number or by mail. The questionnaire takes less time to complete than drinking a cup of coffee. In mid-April, census workers will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to collect information in person.

The Census Bureau creates guides in dozens of languages to help people complete the census. Guides will also be available in braille and large print. To find out more, go to External and type “Language Guides” into the search tool.

And while the census questionnaire itself won’t be available in braille, people who are blind or visually impaired can take advantage of the online and phone-in options. You can get a downloadable and printable Census Bureau fact sheet on accessibility External.