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News October–December 2021

Meet NLS's new director

The C-1's afterlife

Congresswoman records book at NLS

2022 exhibits

Arizona librarian honored

Smiling man in dress shirt and tie sits at side of a round table. Portrait is on the wall above him.
NLS’s new director, Jason Broughton, poses in his office, surrounded by some mementos from his career, including a painting of the Vermont State House; a few of the hourglasses he sometimes uses to keep time; a 2019 profile in Seven Days, an alternative weekly paper in Vermont; and a “30-minute portrait” that artist Rebecca Kinkead painted while Broughton was on a Zoom interview with the Vermont Arts Council.

“We can show what it really means to say ‘That All May Read’ ”

By Mark Layman

Jason Broughton was worried that morning in June 2015 as he drove from his home in Cross, South Carolina, to his job at the State Library in Columbia.

There had been a mass shooting the night before at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, just a block from the Charleston County Public Library. Broughton had led many workforce development programs at the city’s libraries, and he wondered if he knew any of the victims.

The details trickled in over the radio in as he made the 80-mile drive up Interstate 26. One of the nine people killed had indeed been a librarian. And then he heard a familiar name: Cynthia Hurd.

“Oh, Cynthia,” he thought in shock and disbelief.

Many of his State Library coworkers knew Hurd. But none could say she’d had as much impact on their life as she had on Broughton’s.
“She was the person who first said to me, ‘You should be a librarian,’” Broughton recalled this fall, a few weeks after beginning his new job as director of the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS).

• • •

Broughton had never considered a career as a librarian before he met Hurd.

His father was the first African American sheriff’s lieutenant in rural Berkeley County, S.C. His mother taught elementary school for 30 years, and he had aunts, uncles and cousins in the military. Uncertain about his own career path after earning degrees in biology and education at Florida A&M and Florida State University—and working throughout college as a pastry chef at the Tallahassee convention center—he went to a teaching job fair and found the answer.

Broughton taught high school in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on Florida’s Tampa Bay for nearly a decade before putting his career on hold and moving back to South Carolina in 2007 to help care for his widowed mother, who was showing early signs of dementia.

The Great Recession was just beginning as Broughton resettled in his home state. As unemployment soared, Broughton put his teaching experience to use with Charleston County’s Trident One-Stop Career Center, where he developed curricula for and led job-readiness workshops. He later became a workforce development specialist, directly connecting unemployed people with available jobs.

It was around this time that he got to know Hurd, who managed one of the branch libraries where he held workshops.

“I know you said you loved libraries growing up,” Hurd told him one day, suggesting that he consider a new career path.

“I don’t know any rich librarians,” Broughton replied.

“I don’t know any rich schoolteachers,” Hurd countered.

A few months later Hurd told him about an open job at the State Library that seemed like a perfect fit: helping local libraries set up programs to support career changers, ex-offenders, high school dropouts and anyone else in need of a job. Broughton continued to live at the family home in Cross but commuted to Columbia and traveled around the state for the next 2 ½ years.

“I saw the work I was doing as education, but a lot of people were telling me ‘You think like a librarian,’” Broughton said.

A promotion to outreach coordinator at the State Library piqued his interest further. After attending a two-week class in Librarianship 101 sponsored by the Mississippi Library Commission, he set his sights on the library and information science master’s degree program at the University of South Carolina.

Admissions counselors at the university assumed he would enroll the following summer, but Broughton wanted to start right away, in the upcoming spring semester. He took a GRE crash course online, and days before the admissions deadline drove to the only open test site he could find, in North Carolina. He took the test and passed—by two points. He got his master’s degree in 2014.

• • •

Broughton’s work soon began to attract notice outside South Carolina. In 2014 he was named an American Library Association (ALA) Spectrum Scholar, an initiative to support racial and ethnic diversity in the field of library and information science. The following year, Library Journal named him a Mover & Shaker, and in 2016 he was selected to participate in the ALA’s Emerging Leaders program.

After 5 ½ years at the State Library, “I felt like I had the expertise, but I hadn’t paid my dues,” Broughton said. So he applied for a job as assistant director of public services for the library system that serves the three-county region around Savannah, Georgia. He had no inkling what he was getting into. Two weeks after he began, his boss resigned and Broughton was named interim director. In addition to taking on responsibility for all aspects of the program, he initiated investigations into long-simmering financial and human resources issues in the library system. The findings led the library board to oust a payroll processor and the head of the HR department.

The experience in Georgia “was one I never dared dream could ever happen to a neophyte library graduate,” he later told a University of South Carolina publication. “It allowed me to become a better director, facilitator and citizen of my community.”

Man in suit sitting at a table speaks into microphone. Sign on table reads "Mr. Broughton."
Broughton joined other Library of Congress leaders in testifying before a Senate committee on October 20, 2021. “Oh my God, it’s just like CSPAN,” he thought when he entered the hearing room.

In the fall of 2017, a former South Carolina State Library coworker suggested Broughton apply for a job as assistant state librarian in Vermont. Moving from the Deep South to New England wasn’t as big a cultural leap for Broughton as one might imagine, though. He had friends in Vermont and had visited many times—enough to understand that “It’s a rural state, just like South Carolina, only different politically.”

Six months later, he again found himself with unexpected new responsibilities when the state library director resigned—for health reasons in this case—and Broughton was asked to fill the role on an interim basis. In April 2019, Governor Phil Scott appointed him to the job full time. In a state where the population is almost 95 percent white, Broughton was the first African American to serve as State Librarian.

While he didn’t have experience in the NLS network, Broughton was familiar with the program. He worked with NLS’s network library in Vermont to begin planning for NLS’s participation in the Marrakesh Treaty, an international pact that eases the cross-border exchange of books in accessible formats. He also backed a proposal to change the network library’s name to the ABLE Library—an acronym for Audio and Braille, Large-print, and Electronic books—to better reflect the services it provides. And he often got notes, emails and phone calls from grateful patrons of the ABLE Library.

So he was intrigued last spring when he saw that NLS was looking for a new director. “I saw it as a unique opportunity to look at library services differently,” he said. “I take this as a challenge to see if we can be who we say we are as a society. We can show what it really means to say ‘That All May Read.’ ”

• • •

Broughton had to get up to speed quickly after he began work on September 13. A potential government shutdown was averted just hours before the new federal budget year began October 1. Barely a month after he arrived he joined Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and other top staff at a Senate Committee on Rules and Administration hearing on Library of Congress modernization efforts. (“I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s just like CSPAN,” he said.) That same week he gave a presentation on NLS’s FY22 goals and priorities to the Library’s Executive Committee.

NLS’s overarching goal under Broughton’s leadership will be to enlarge its patron base. “But how we do that will be unique as technology changes,” he said with a nod toward ongoing trials of braille eReaders and next-generation digital talking-book players and improvements to BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download website.

Most staff members at NLS, like the rest of the Library of Congress, are still on pandemic telework, and only a few have met Broughton in person. But they got a sense of his personality during his first all-staff meeting, held over Skype.

“I want to hear what you’re thinking, what you’re seeing, what you don’t like, what you love, what can be changed,” he told staff. “And I want to make sure that you have the tools and resources that you need to be the employee that you want to be here.

“If we do this right we’ll have some fun. There’ll be some whimsy. I love laughter, so I hope we’ll have some of that along with our work. I also want to make sure we have a really wonderful, robust, and engaged interaction with our network and our users, and with those who pay the bills and hold the purse strings—Congress.”

And mentioning his love of baking and experience as a pastry chef, he added, “It will also be an interesting culinary experience. All of you will probably gain 50 pounds as you get to know me!”

The surprising afterlife of the NLS C-1 cassette player

One of a series of stories in this 90th anniversary year exploring facets of NLS history. Read more at

By Claire Rojstaczer

The last NLS-produced cassette machine rolled off the production line in 2007; the last NLS cassette book followed a few years later. The digital future, after all, had come: digital talking-book machines with fewer moving parts offered more reliable functionality, and digital talking-book cartridges let patrons fit entire series’ worth of reading material into the palms of their hands.

So why, nearly 15 years later, are C-1 cassette players—first developed in 1981—a hot commodity on the black market (even though they remain US Government property intended for use only by registered patrons of the NLS program)? Because they offer functionality that no commercially produced player has—functionality with unexpected appeal to experimental musicians.

Close-up photo of cassegttee player with explanatory sign titled "The Talking Book Machine C-1" "As with its records in the 1930s, NLS chose to use a non-standard, slower format for its cassette tapes. Issuing books at 1 ⅞ ips—the standard for commercial music—would have required shipping boxes of tapes for each book. Instead, NLS recorded at 15/16 ips, with four monaural tracks per cassette, allowing each cassette to hold up to six hours of recorded material.

NLS understood, however, that its patrons might also want to play cassettes procured from other sources, so the C-1 offered a simple switch that allowed users to choose between 1⅞ ips playback and 15/16 ips playback. It also had a variable speed control slider that allowed patrons to read books faster if they desired—a technological innovation that NLS had been experimenting with since the 1960s.

“Time-scale modification,” the late NLS engineer Lloyd Rasmussen once said, “is a complex problem with several fundamentally different approaches. We were interested in trying all of them.” That put NLS at the forefront of technology in an era when music equipment producers saw little purpose or value in methods to speed up sound without distorting it.

Today, the digital talking-book machine uses a digital signal-processing algorithm to speed up and slow down sound, but in the cassette-book era, the methods were all analog. Ambient and low-fi music aficionados prize the unique distortions created through those analog methods.

Add in the ability to alter tone with the flick of another slider, and the fact that using the side-control switch designed for four-sided NLS tapes on standard two-sided tapes allows them to be played backwards, and you have a machine that can twist and alter music in ways its creators never imagined. It even has an auxiliary input port, allowing users to feed sound into it from non-cassette sources.
The results are eerie, haunting, compelling—and a tribute to the ingenuity of NLS engineers.


Two women hold an open print/braille book while two men look on; all are wearing medical masks
NLS Collections Division Chief Alice O’Reilly (right) shows Rep. Sharice Davids a print/braille copy of her book. NLS Deputy Director Jason Yasner (second from left) and Director Jason Broughton look on. (Below) Rep. Davids in the studio.

Rep. Sharice Davids narrates kids book for NLS

By Mark Layman

US Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas visited NLS on October 19 to narrate her children’s book, Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman, in the NLS Studio. The book recounts Davids's path to becoming one of the first Native American women elected to Congress.

“I discovered the book while reading reviews and realized it was a perfect book for our collection,” NLS Youth Librarian Jill Garcia said. “Picture books written by and featuring Native Americans are extremely rare, and here was one of the first Native Americans in Congress writing an inspiring book about her life. And I fell in love with her inclusive message.

Woman sits in front of studio microphone, an open book on a stand in front of her“On a more personal note, I found myself—even as an adult—identifying with her experiences growing up. I know a lot of our young readers will relate to her too.”

Garcia originally chose the book to be produced in electronic braille and as a print/braille picture book—in which semi-transparent pages with braille are overlaid on the print pages, so a sighted person can read together with a blind person. “Then I decided to do it in audio, and thought it would be more powerful if it were done in her own voice.”

NLS Communications and Outreach Section Head Kristen Fernekes, Collections Division Chief Alice O’Reilly, and LOC Congressional Relations Specialists Elizabeth Torkelson and Kimberly Crawford took it from there, working with Davids’s office to set up the recording session.

Davids was a little nervous but excited when she arrived at NLS that morning. “For a first-time narrator, she did an excellent job,” NLS Media Lab Head Celeste Lawson said. “As she warmed up to the mic, she relaxed into a conversational delivery that was perfect for her book.” She took her role seriously, even stopping to call a leader of the Ho-Chunk Nation, of which she is an enrolled member, to double check the pronunciation of a word.

"I'm thrilled—and honored—to be a part of the Library of Congress's mission to make their resources available to everyone,” Davids said afterward. “It was a very special experience to work with the staff and record the book."

The audio recording will be available to NLS patrons this month. The print/braille version is in the final stages of production, and the electronic braille version is already available on BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service.

NLS exhibit program gets a pandemic makeover

For more than 40 years, NLS has had an exhibit program that allows us to interact directly with potential patrons and the professionals who serve them. An exhibit booth is a great way to engage people at various organizations’ national conferences and annual meetings. We generally attended 20 to 25 events, based on a number of factors: diversity of audiences related to NLS’s patron demographics, organization partnerships, efficacy of the event’s reach in the past and fiscal year budgets and schedules.

The past two years have forced us to reimagine our approach to this important outreach activity. Instead of canceling their large gatherings, many of the organizations with whom we work have begun using virtual spaces. We’ve learned to navigate digital platforms and use new technology to engage with audiences at a variety of conferences.

We’ve enjoyed taking on this new challenge and advocating for accessibility in virtual spaces during this time. In the coming year, we look forward to finding new ways to reach people who may benefit from our service. This will include continuing partnerships with organizations that work with people with disabilities, presenting the NLS program to new groups and, of course, using virtual and in-person exhibits where possible.

Continue to look for us as we participate in consumer events and sponsorship opportunities with the following groups:

• Abilities Expo
• American Council of the Blind
• American Federation of Teachers
• American Library Association
• American Occupational Therapy Association
• Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
• Association on Higher Education and Disability
• Blinded Veterans Association
• National Federation of the Blind
• Public Library Association

—Gabrielle Barnes, NLS Exhibits Coordinator

Arizona librarian honored

Two women hold plaque; Arizona Secretary of State seal on wall behind themCongratulations to Janet Fisher, administrator of the Arizona Talking Book Library, on receiving the American Library Association’s James Bennett Childs Award! Fisher, at right in the photo with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, was honored for her significant contributions to the field of documents librarianship.

Fisher has been affiliated with the Arizona State Library since 1985. In 2013, during her time as the Division Director of the Law and Research Library, Arizona’s regional depository library was named Federal Depository Library of the Year. She participated in the IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Libraries grant project, “Government Information in the 21st Century,” serving as state coordinator and presenter for Arizona. She also served two terms on the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer.

She has been administrator of the Arizona Talking Book Library since 2015.

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