Spotlight on Quality: Henry Chang
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) patrons rely on the 119 cooperating libraries across the country to provide braille and recorded books and magazines. In 2009 alone more than 24 million copies were circulated to a readership exceeding 823,000.
These libraries provide more than reading materials. Many offer services that not only enrich the patrons’ reading experiences but also support independence and access in other areas of their lives.
This article, the third in a series that profiles the librarians who exemplify the highest aspirations of the NLS mission, features Dr. Henry C. Chang, director of Braille Institute Library Services (BILS) in Los Angeles (also known as the Southern California regional library.)
NLS: Henry, please talk a little about your background.
HC: I was born in Canton, China, and came to the United States in 1964. I have a master’s degree in sociology and demography from the University of Missouri in Columbia, and one in library science from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where I also received a PhD in sociology in 1974.
I began my library career at the Braille Institute in 1965 as a reader advisor. In 1967 I moved to the Twin Cities and worked at the University of Minnesota, first as an instructor and the section head librarian in the Department of Reference Services, then as the assistant head of the Government Publications Division.
In 1974 I moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands to become the chief librarian and lecturer in social services at the University of the Virgin Islands. In December 1975 I was appointed by the governor as director of Cultural Affairs and territorial (state) librarian, a position I held for thirteen years.
In January 1990 I returned to the Braille Institute as director of Library Services— a position I currently hold.
NLS: Congratulations on receiving the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service! BILS has received many accolades over the years, correct?
HC: Thank you! My staff and I are very proud to be one of the five libraries in the nation to receive the medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services; it is the highest national honor for libraries and museums in the United States. BILS was selected because of our sustained commitment to our community.
BILS was also the first NLS network library to receive the Network Library of the Year Award in 2005. In 2007 the library was given the American Library Association’s KLAS/National Organization on Disability Award, in recognition of our accomplishments in serving people with disabilities, particularly our Telephone Reader Program. We have also received many certificates of recognition and achievement, commendations, and other awards over the years from the U.S. Congress, the California State Assembly, the mayor of Los Angeles, and others.
NLS: It has been almost a year since the digital rollout began; how is the distribution of digital talking-book players and books going?
HC: As of May 2010, our Digital Transition Committee had distributed 11,858 digital talking-book players, and we have 2,026 digital titles (36,599 copies) in the BILS collection. Our patrons are very pleased with the quality of sound and ease of operation of the new technology. We do have some circulation issues with the books, such as the newly arrived digital books getting mixed up with patrons’ returned cassette books, which forces us to sort these books so they can be inventoried into the system. We also have some problems with the mailing containers being damaged in the U.S. Postal Service’s machines during shipping; fortunately, it’s just the container and not the actual book that’s damaged. We are working with NLS to resolve these issues.
“In Southern California there are an estimated 350,000 people who are eligible for our library service, yet only 10 percent of that population has been reached and served.”
NLS: How many patrons does BILS now serve?
HC: More than 34,000 individuals, the majority of whom are 75 and older, receive materials directly from the library. An additional 5,000 patrons receive our services through 1,600 affiliated institutions, such as hospitals, senior centers, schools, centers for the blind, convalescent homes, and local public libraries. Our library system—which includes the main library in Los Angeles, as well as four branch libraries in Orange County, Rancho Mirage, San Diego, and Santa Barbara—circulates an average of 6,000 units a day, or more than 1.3 million units annually. BILS is also the machine-lending agency for Southern California, with 5,000 players repaired by volunteers each year.
NLS: BILS also provides many services, such as summer reading programs, to its patrons. What are some others?
HC: We have both an adult and a juvenile summer reading program that concludes with a recognition ceremony for the most prolific readers. We had a record-breaking 274 patrons sign up for the kids’ program last summer. In 2006 BILS unveiled Kids Korner, a monthly program featuring story-telling sessions for blind and visually impaired students in the area.
BILS hosts an open house each October to keep the public informed about our programs and services. Local vendors, guest celebrities, and authors participate in this event, and we present the Golden Cassette Award to selected community organizations, individuals, or volunteer groups that have worked closely with the library to help us fulfill our mission. We also host a ceremony honoring our volunteers each December, a book-of-the-month club held every Wednesday, and periodic informational workshops for our patrons.
One of our most successful programs is the Telephone Reader Program, a free service that allows patrons to read the daily paper via their touch-tone phones. Volunteers come in daily to record articles from all sections of USA Today and La Opiñion. On March 28, 2008, actress Shelley Long came to the library to record some articles for the program’s Guest Voice series. Other information available in the program includes local news, weekly grocery and drug-store advertisements, Braille Institute announcements, and the Librarian newsletter.
NLS: Are you planning to implement any new programs soon?
HC: BILS has consistently added programs and services for our patrons and plans to continue doing so. Most recently, we started the Meet the Author project to bring new patrons into our program. We also have partnered with StoryCorps, an oral-history project run by an independent nonprofit organization, to record stories related to braille from our patrons. These stories will be archived into the Library of Congress collection.
NLS: What are some of the major milestones BILS has reached under your
HC: I am extremely proud of my staff and volunteers. They have worked hard to achieve many things, among them:
- 1990—in September, the new 100,000 square-foot library and conference center facilities were dedicated.
- 1991—the first of our four library branches was officially established in the Palm Springs desert area. During the next three years, branch libraries were opened in Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Orange County, respectively.
- 1995—annual circulation hit one million books and the library’s machine-quality program ranked number one in the
- 1996—our annual open house drew a record-breaking crowd of 800 patrons and visitors; NLS director Kurt Cylke was the keynote speaker.
- 1998—the library workshop “Living with Limited Vision” was attended by 150 activity directors from health-care facilities throughout Southern California.
- 1999—a comprehensive library-user survey revealed a 99 percent patron-satisfaction rate.
- 2000—BILS cohosted the biennial
National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in Manhattan Beach in Southern California.
- 2001—monthly book circulation hit 121,155.
- 2005—a Spanish-language feature of the Telephone Reader Program was launched.
- 2006—an Online Public Access Catalog (WebOPAC) was established, enabling patrons with Internet access to search for books online.
- 2007—the library received a grant from the California State Library to subscribe to the service Unabridged, providing patrons access to digital talking books via the Internet.
- 2008—the Telephone Reader Program added old time radio shows to the system; this popular feature now has more than 3,000 episodes.
- 2009—the library hosted the annual Keystone Library Automation System conference at the Braille Institute’s San Diego Branch Library in La Jolla. Representatives from 44 regional and subregional libraries attended.
- 2010—BILS partnered with StoryCorps to include 18 library patrons, staff, and volunteers in an oral history project to be part of the Library of Congress archival collection.
NLS: What do you consider the biggest challenge or challenges for Braille Institute Library Services?
HC: Because of funding cutbacks faced by all libraries in our nation, my biggest challenge is finding innovative ways to use the limited resources we have to adequately serve our blind and physically handicapped community. In Southern California there are an estimated 350,000 people who are eligible for our library service, yet only 10 percent of that population has been reached and served.
On June 6, 1960, “Cathy’s Clown” was the number-one song on AM radio and westerns like Wagon Train ruled TV. Sports Illustrated’s cover featured “The Return of Redhead: Schoendienst of the Braves”—the Milwaukee Braves, that is—and Time magazine trumpeted the United States’ latest space-race success: the launching of a satellite to detect incoming missiles.
That late-spring day 50 years ago also marked the beginning of the partnership between the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the Telephone Pioneers of America, the association of telecommunications employees―now known as Pioneers—A Volunteer Network―that is the backbone of the NLS machine-repair program.
Over the past half century Pioneers have repaired 3.6 million talking-book machines, starting with phonographs, then cassette machines in the 1970s, and now digital players.
In the 2009 fiscal year, group members, most of whom are retirees, repaired more than 50,000 cassette book machines. The cost savings: $3 million, based on an estimated $60 per repair. “They are very self-motivated, so over the years they have come up with their own equipment to do repairs,” said Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division at NLS. “And they share the knowledge they develop.”
“Pioneers have made a tremendous contribution with the number of hours they put in and the skill level they bring to the repair program.”
—Michael Katzmann, chief, NLS Materials and Development Division
NLS commemorated the 50-year partnership on May 16, 2010, with the presentation of a plaque to the Pioneers, represented by Gabe Olah, national cochairman of the repair program, at the 2010 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in Des Moines, Iowa.
“That plaque represents all those hours of work that Pioneers have put in to improve the quality of life for people they’ve never met,” said Olah. He added that patrons often include notes with their broken machines, thanking Pioneers for their work.
“Pioneers have made a tremendous contribution with the number of hours they put in and the skill level they bring to the repair program,” said Katzmann.
Answering the call
The Pioneers began in 1911 as a social organization but by the late 1950s had begun to emphasize community service with the motto “Answering the call of those in need.” After one member’s daughter was blinded in an accident, a Massachusetts chapter recorded some books to help her complete her education. By 1960 Pioneers were providing 8,000 records a year for blind readers. Pioneers also were training as braille transcribers, establishing eye banks, and recycling eyeglasses.
In 1959, the Bell Telephone Company decided to issue its annual report in braille and recorded formats. At that time patrons typically returned their broken record players to their local machine-lending agency, which sent the players to a central repair shop. As broken machines piled up, the Library asked workers at the lending agencies to learn to make minor repairs, but most were librarians, not electricians. So when a Bell representative visited the Library of Congress to work out production details for its annual report, Robert Bray, chief of the Library’s Division for the Blind, raised the possibility of the Pioneers taking over repair and maintenance of talking-book machines. The partnership with the Pioneers solved a big problem for NLS.
NLS supplies the tools, parts, and test equipment for Pioneers, “but we rely on the outside world to give them a place to work,” said NLS equipment repair officer Kevin Watson, who coordinates the repair program. Business communications company Avaya Inc., for example, provides a workshop at its plant in Westminster, Colorado.
After repairing cassette machines for 50 years, Pioneers are getting up to speed on the new NLS digital talking-book machines. But as more patrons start using the new machines, Pioneers may not have as much work to do. “These are really rugged machines; you could drop one off a table top onto a concrete floor and it wouldn’t hurt it a bit,” Colorado Pioneers volunteer Steve Austin said.
And when the digital machines do need repairs, “It’s going to be easier, actually,” he said. “It’s modular with only thirty-five or so parts in the whole thing, whereas there were hundreds in the old one.”
Olah said his fellow Pioneers often ask “how much longer are we going to be needed, because we really like doing this.” His guess: at least another 15 or 20 years. More than 600,000 cassette machines are still in use and will be around for a long time. And “every time we have our meetings, we are told there are still people with record players out there.”
- Pioneers did more than half of the nearly 100,000 talking-book machine repairs logged in the 2009 fiscal year. GE Volunteers and others also do repairs.
- About 1,000 Pioneers volunteer in the repair program.
- The Pioneers were honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award this year for their 50 years of work in the repair program.
Learn more about the Pioneers at www.telecompioneers.org.
Arizona. The Arizona State Braille and Talking Book Library rolled out its digital bookmobile on February 16, 2010. Developed inside a 74-foot, 18-wheel tractor trailer, the digital bookmobile is equipped with broadband Internet-connected computers, high-definition monitors, and a variety of portable media players. Hands-on learning stations allow visitors to search the digital media collection; use supported mobile devices; and download books, music, and videos from the library.
District of Columbia. Patrick Timony, adaptive technology librarian at the District of Columbia Public Library’s Adaptive Services Division, was one of five recipients of the 2010 Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Awards for Public Service. The award, given by the George Washington Center for Excellence in Public Leadership, celebrates outstanding D.C. government employees. Timony, who was recognized as “the technological mastermind behind the D.C. Public Library delivery system that continues to serve as a national model,” received a trophy and $7,500 cash award at a May 17, 2010, ceremony.
Florida. Mike Gunde, chief of the Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services in Daytona Beach, Florida, retired in June 2010. “I have 30 years of service in Florida government,” Gunde said. “It’s been an honor serving our customers and working with colleagues all these years.”
Hawaii. Lorna Lau, library technician for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Honolulu, was honored by the Friends of the Library of Hawaii with the 2009 Excellence in Service Award on February 11, 2010. Lau, who has been with the library since 1981, was nominated by the mother of one of her patrons, who stated, “As a mom of a special needs child, I find Lorna’s kind and expert help a godsend.”
North Carolina. Shawn Lemieux Faircloth, volunteer coordinator at the North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Raleigh, was presented with the Stephen E. Sallee Award for Excellence for her effective use of assistive technology. Faircloth, who uses assistive technology herself, has coordinated the state’s Assistive Technology Expo for the past several years. In addition to her work at the library, Faircloth is pursuing a master’s in library science at Syracuse University, completing most of her courses online.
Virginia. Nearly 200 people attended the 2010 Assistive Technology and Resources Fair in Annandale on May 7, 2010, hosted by Fairfax County Public Library’s Access Services. Don Olsen, NLS quality assurance specialist, demonstrated how to download digital audiobooks from the Internet via the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) program, and Vickie Collins, NLS consultant for the South and West, showed attendees how to use the NLS digital talking-book player.
On February 21, 2010, Tonia Gatton downloaded the digital talking-book version of Charlotte’s Web to her home computer. She knew she was going to read a classic of children’s literature. What she didn’t know was that she was also making history. That talking book marked the one millionth piece of reading material delivered by the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service, which NLS formally launched on April 30, 2009.
“We are gratified by the passionate response BARD has received,” said NLS director Kurt Cylke. “At NLS, we strive to continually improve our patrons’ opportunities to access a wide range of reading material. BARD has been an unequaled success in speeding delivery to our patrons.”
Gatton, a rehabilitation teacher at the Kentucky Office for the Blind and a 25-year patron of NLS, is no exception to the trend of positive reader response. In her words, “Finally having instant access to thousands of books and magazines that I can download and read as desired, rather than waiting and hoping for new books to come in the mail, has been an incredible experience. I’ve recently started going back and reading a lot of the classics that I either hadn’t read or didn’t appreciate as a child, such as Charlotte’s Web. After only a little over a year of using BARD, I can’t imagine what I did without it.”
“Our patrons are enthusiastic about BARD. Some of the more computer-literate readers have switched exclusively to downloading since the option became available,” said Barbara Penegor, branch manager of the Kentucky Talking Book Library, where Gatton receives services. NLS originally ran BARD from its central Washington, D.C., office, but its intent was to eventually delegate administrative authority to the network. In late 2009, NLS began training staff at a handful of volunteer libraries in the intricacies of managing BARD, including account creation and password retrieval. Kentucky Talking Book Library staff members were in the midst of that eight-week training program at the time of the millionth download. They completed the training on March 23, making Kentucky Talking Book Library the fifth to assume full responsibility for download activity. By the end of May, NLS had transitioned control to 24 of its 119 cooperating libraries.
“Many libraries started the process with some concerns,” said David Whittall, digital equipment coordinator at NLS. “They don’t know how much time managing BARD will take, or whether it will increase their expenses. But as they go through training, they soon realize the burden is small, especially in light of the great benefit to their readers. Most libraries will only be handling two or three new BARD patrons a week.”
That small number per individual library adds up to substantial growth for BARD, which has expanded at a rate of approximately 2,000 users per month in 2010. By early May, almost 20,000 NLS patrons had registered for access, and the number of patron downloads had reached 1.3 million. NLS expects the service to reach the two millionth download mark by year’s end.
In 1998 Stratford, Connecticut, craft-shop proprietor Joyce Kane underwent a coronary bypass. She emerged from the surgery blind. Her diabetes had caused small-artery disease, which left her optic blood vessels without enough oxygen during the operation—something her doctors could not have known. “I woke up in total blindness,” she said. “It’s been an adjustment. I had to learn things all over again.”
Six months after her surgery, Kane was unemployed and “thoroughly bored.” She picked up a round needle and yarn and, with the help of a friend who recorded a pattern on tape, she relearned the skill of knitting. She would knit all day, unravel much of her work at night, and begin again the following day until she was satisfied—and had created a sweater. “I wanted to learn how to do it without being able to see,” she said.
In 2008 Kane was instrumental in starting the Krafters Division at the National Federation of the Blind and became the division president. With the encouragement of NFB executive director of affiliate action Joanne Wilson and director of reference of the Jacobus tenBroek Library Patricia Maurer, Kane also began an NFB blog called Krafters Korner and helped create classes for members in various crafts, including knitting, origami, crocheting, hairpin lace, soap making, and basket weaving. The classes, which are conducted via conference call, are taught by blind crafters. Kane oversees the preparation of the lesson plans and ensures that the classes are recorded for those who download them onto MP3 players from the web site www.sendspace.com. “I thought it would be cool to get a bunch of blind people together to share our love of crafts and our skills.”
To learn more about NFB Krafters Division online classes and discussions, visit www.krafterskorner.org or http://krafterskorner.blogspot.com. To join the listserv Krafters Korner, go to www.nfbnet.org to subscribe.