Seattle and Virginia Beach libraries recognized for outstanding service

During a ceremony in the Whittall Pavilion at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., on June 19, winners of the Network Library Awards received recognition for their promotion and distribution of digital talking books. The Washington Talking Book and Braille Library (WTBBL) of Seattle and the Special Services Library of Virginia Beach were each presented with framed certificates for their libraries and parent agencies and a $1,000 cash award.

Danielle Miller, regional librarian of WTBBL, said, “Receiving the Network Library of the Year Award means so much to all of us: staff, volunteers, and patrons. Everything we do is really a collective effort.”

The first NLS network library to produce its own downloadable digital talking books, WTBBL circulated 397,077 items to 10,236 eligible individuals throughout the state of Washington in 2009. The library also gained 1,401 new patrons that year.

WTBBL patrons enthusiastically demonstrated their appreciation for the library’s services through letters of thanks and financial donations of nearly $125,000 in 2009. The funding helped to support a variety of programs, including a radio reading service that WTBBL broadcasts from its studio and makes available in podcast form through its website.

Director presents award
NLS director Kurt Cylke presents the Network Library of the Year Award to Danielle H. Miller, regional librarian, Jan Walsh, Washington State librarian, and Sue Ammeter, chair of the Patron Advisory Council.

Joined at the podium by Washington State librarian Jan Walsh and Patron Advisory Council chair Sue Ammeter, Miller said, “During the past year, we’ve managed to expand our services in creative ways despite economic difficulties and funding cuts. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and grateful to be recognized for it.”

Accepting the Network Subregional Library of the Year Award, Pam Brown, senior and disability services librarian in Virginia Beach noted, “I began working for Special Services just two years ago. There could not have been a more exciting time to become involved! We have delivered new digital machines to 57 percent of our active customers. The transition to digital technology has invigorated them and I am glad to have this opportunity to thank NLS on their behalf for this new format.”

The Special Services Library has used the distribution of digital talking-book players and digital talking books as an opportunity to garner publicity from its local newspaper. To support growing demand for digital talking books, the Special Services Library raised funds to help purchase blank cartridges so patrons can download audiobooks from the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD).

Brown, accompanied by Richard Sorey, Norfolk regional manager of the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and Martha J. Sims, Virginia Beach Public Library director, continued: “In the city of Virginia Beach, 21 percent of the patrons are downloading books from BARD. We will be starting a download-on-demand program for customers who cannot manage the process themselves. This will be funded by our local Lions Club, the Friends of the Virginia Beach Library, and by your generous award.”

Virginia awardees
(Left to right) Pam Brown, Virginia Beach subregional librarian and senior and disability services librarian; Carolyn Sung, NLS Network Division chief; Anna Payne, U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s Office; Richard Sorey, Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, Norfolk, regional manager; Martha J. Sims, Virginia Beach Public Library director; and Carolyn Caywood, Special Services Library manager

The Special Services Library, which serves the Eastern Shore of Virginia and nearby counties, circulated 35,419 items to 905 patrons in 2009. It shares space with the Bayside Area Library, enabling Special Services to provide patrons with an accessible computer laboratory and other walk-in services six days a week. Other noteworthy projects that distinguish the library include having obtained television coverage for organizing a library-sponsored field trip to the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, where patrons were encouraged to touch art and discuss their experiences with attending artists.

Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services, commended NLS for its dedication to serving the blind and physically handicapped community and for recognizing the libraries on the front lines. Kathryn Mendenhall, LC director of Partnerships and Outreach Programs, also expressed support for the talking-book program and its goals, noting especially the launch of the digital talking-book system.

NLS presents the Network Library of the Year Awards each year to two libraries for outstanding performance at state and local levels. Special committees of librarians and patrons make the selections using three primary criteria: mission support (the extent to which the library reached or exceeded benchmarks set out in the American Library Association Revised Standards and Guidelines of Service), creativity and innovation, and record of patron satisfaction.

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Librarians laud launch of digital talking books

Poet Stephen Kuusito
Poet Stephen Kuusisto shared his experiences with conference participants during his keynote address.

“You and this program saved my life,” Michael Hingson, a survivor of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, told 200 participants attending the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, May 16–20, in Des Moines, Iowa. The conference, which centered on the theme “We All Did It! The Digital Future Is Now,” marked the release of digital talking books and players to special-format libraries that serve a readership of 900,000.

Hingson, a motivational speaker from California, served on the consumer panel at the conference. He was employed as the Mid-Atlantic Region sales manager of the Quantum Corporation at the time of the 9/11 attack. Hingson and his guide dog Roselle helped the seven employees in his office escape and then headed down the stairway themselves. “I was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center Tower One. Having the opportunity to read, to learn about many things, helped me to go down the stairs on 9/11,” he said.

The conference keynote speaker, poet and University of Iowa professor Stephen Kuusisto, shared Hingson’s message of a strong, long-term connection to the talking-book program. He recounted his experience reading and sharing with his peers John Milton’s Paradise Lost “on a long-playing record for the blind from the Library of Congress. NLS allows us to read broadly and comprehensively,” Kuusisto said, referring to the range of books available through the NLS International Union Catalog.

Tom Miller, executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association, lauded the librarians for their work. “Besides not being able to drive anymore, not being able to read is a concern to soldiers who return from the war blind,” Miller explained. “The service you provide is truly a joy and a pleasure to us.”

Another speaker on the consumer panel was Tom Galante, vice president of human resources for the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who reflected on developments in the free library service. “It’s amazing how far the program has come. Big boxes with straps around them would come in the mail. Now I can have a book in forty-five seconds,” he said, referring to the ability to download books from the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD). Galante expressed his appreciation of the work of librarians who serve blind and physically handicapped readers: “You do so many more things than delivering books. Librarians provide instruction, direction, and opportunities for networking. I can find out about anything and everything available to me.”

Other conference sessions covered distribution, inspection, and maintenance of digital talking-book machines; quality assurance for digital audiobooks and magazines; and best practices for registering and training patrons to use BARD service, which enables them to download audiobooks and magazines from the Internet. Participants also received a demonstration of a duplication device that librarians may use to copy audiobooks from BARD onto multiple digital audio cartridges simultaneously. 

Conference participants also toured the Iowa regional library, the governor’s mansion, and the Des Moines Botanical Center at Terrace Hill. They took in the view of the gardens at Capitol Hill, where they visited the State Historical Museum of Iowa and local shops and enjoyed lunch. The conference wrapped up on Thursday evening with a trip to Principal Park, where the minor league Iowa Cubs took on the Colorado Sky Sox.

The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals is held every two years for briefings and updates on developments at NLS and throughout the network of cooperating libraries. The 2012 conference will be in Newport, Rhode Island.

Insight for the Blind celebrates 35 years

Bob Roberts in studio
Bob Roberts, at the monitor’s desk in a studio, gestures to a reader in the soundproof recording booth to “begin reading NOW!” This particular session took place in 2006, during the changeover from analog to digital. Roberts, a longtime volunteer at Insight for the Blind, passed away in July 2010 at the age of 90.

In 1975 a small but dedicated group of volunteers led by Caroline and Ted Mansur turned a vacant room in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, law office into a recording studio. Using secondhand equipment and old egg crates for soundproofing, the group began recording talking books for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

The Mansurs, retirees from Washington, D.C., founded Insight for the Blind after a chance meeting with a young blind man who missed reading made them realize that many others had a similar need for information.

This year marks Insight’s 35th consecutive year of producing talking books and magazines for NLS. Insight’s equipment, facilities, and administration are all funded by private-sector donations. Since its humble beginnings the organization has recruited and trained more than 2,000 volunteers who have produced more than 1,500 audiobooks to date in the 6 recording and 13 reviewing studios housed inside the organization’s own building. 

Celebrity Volunteers

Gleasons at Insight
Marilyn Gleason (left), Fred Guardabassi (a financial benefactor), and June Taylor

Among Insight for the Blind’s corps of volunteer narrators, monitors/producers, and reviewers are a number of actors and voice-over professionals who keep their skills sharp by recording materials for NLS patrons.

Marilyn Gleason, wife of the late television star Jackie Gleason and one of the June Taylor dancers featured on the Jackie Gleason Show, volunteered as a narrator and served on Insight’s Board of Directors during the 1970s and 1980s.  Her sister—choreographer June Taylor—was also involved with Insight.



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Wolfner Library launches duplication-on-demand program

In June 2009, Wolfner Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Jefferson City, Missouri, implemented a digital duplication-on-demand (DOD) program to try to keep pace with its patrons’ reading appetites. “Because of the scarcity of digital titles and copies at the time, the 6,600 1-GB blank digital cartridges purchased by the Friends of Wolfner Library were quickly spent on popular titles in high demand,” said library director Richard Smith. Soon after, an additional 1,000 2-GB, then 2,700 2-GB, cartridges were used. Digital-book duplication continued for those titles in high demand and for titles specifically for readers needing disability-related information. Once the book was returned, if it did not circulate again, the cartridge was reused for another popular book.

Wolfner DOD team
Wolfner’s DOD team: Verhonda Winters, Don Branch (center), and Tim Scott

Smith and his staff are now shifting the focus of the DOD program to low-demand titles that meet patrons’ specific requests—for example, books about careers and computers, as well as travel and legal guides. “We now wish to provide our patrons with titles that are not likely to be part of our current digital collection,” Smith explained. Popular genres, including mysteries, romances, and bestsellers, generally have enough titles available for distribution and therefore would not need to be duplicated. In addition, the DOD program is expected to fill gaps in series titles as well as other gaps in the general collection.

Wolfner staff will initially limit duplication to 50 titles per month. Most books that will be copied are not expected to circulate multiple times, so staff will, upon return from the patron, erase the cartridge and reuse it.

Contractor produces 1,000th digital audiobook title for NLS

NAC staff with title
National Audio Company president Steve Stepp (fifth from left), production manager Susie Brown (far left), and employees celebrate NAC’s production of its 1,000th NLS digital audiobook title.

Most workers at National Audio Company (NAC) in Springfield, Missouri, had no idea what was going on when company president Steve Stepp told everyone to turn off their machines and gather in the third-floor production department at 10 a.m. on Thursday, July 22.

Stepp had big news to share: NAC had just finished producing 342 copies of its 1,000th title on digital audiobook flash cartridge for NLS. The book, Yankee for Life: My Forty-Year Journey in Pinstripes, is the autobiography of the late baseball star Bobby Murcer.

“There was a lot of cheering,” said Susie Brown, NAC’s production manager. “We are very proud of this group of people. They have worked hard to make this happen.”

NLS director Kurt Cylke echoed that sentiment: “The National Audio Company is one of our largest producers of audiobooks on flash cartridges. We appreciate both the timeliness and quality of their work.”

Collection Development Advisory Group briefed on selection procedures

The Collection Development Advisory Group held its annual meeting at NLS in Washington, D.C., on May 26–28. Members of the NLS Collection Development Section (CDS) staff each took a few moments to discuss their roles in building the collection.

Foreign-language librarian David Fernández-Barrial introduced the foreign-language program and explained the acquisition of audio and braille titles from abroad. He described the holdings of the NLS Special Foreign Language Collection, housed in the Multistate Center East. The collection consists for the most part of cassette books in more than 60 languages, which patrons may obtain through interlibrary loan. Fernández-Barrial hopes that the production of digital audio titles in Spanish for the NLS national collection will gradually grow to 85 to 100 titles yearly to meet an ever-increasing demand.

Fernández-Barrial also discussed the results of the first-ever Collection Development language-preference survey. Though responses are still being compiled and interpreted, the survey has revealed that more than 14,000 patrons expressed interest in languages other than English, with Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Mandarin the most often cited. “The responses to the survey will be a valuable tool to guide the directions of growth,” he said. “It is important for us to know what people want, and this survey is a crucial first step in reinvigorating a vibrant foreign-language collection for the benefit of our patrons.”

CDS librarians explain selection process

Selection librarian Jill Garcia discussed the processes by which section librarians choose books for the collection. Of the 50 titles selected each week, approximately 60 percent are fiction and 40 percent nonfiction; 80 percent are adult and young adult and 20 percent children’s; 70 percent are current books and 30 percent are retrospective, that is, more than two years old. After the requisite number of patron requests, bestsellers and high-priority titles, children’s and young adult books, and foreign-language works are selected, each of the four section librarians puts forth seven or eight titles from prearranged areas of expertise or focus. Titles must be supported by at least two positive reviews from mainstream sources or some compelling justification.

Senior selection librarians Sara Long and Barbara Herndon discussed the types of books they focus on and fielded questions from the group. Herndon, who selects romances and books on religions, sports, entertainment, and medicine, mentioned that one of her greatest challenges is finding contemporary romance novels that do not contain explicit descriptions of sex. Long, who focuses on suspense, mystery, gardening, and true crime, noted that the difficulty in accurately numbering books in popular series has led CDS to revoke its policy of assigning sequence numbers in permanent bibliographic data.

Children’s librarian Patricia Steelman told the group that NLS adds approximately 500 children’s books to the collection each year, 70 percent of them audiobooks and 30 percent braille. About 30 books are commissioned annually for print/braille production. Steelman noted the increasing difficulty of finding books for K–3 readers that are not heavily dependent on illustrations for comprehension.

Group members address patrons’ concerns

After a walking tour of NLS headquarters at Taylor Street with brief talks by key NLS staff in each section, the group reassembled for two days of deliberations. Drawing upon specific concerns sent to them by patrons across the network, their own experience with the service, and the yield from their interactions, the group developed 14 recommendations and 12 commendations that were formally presented for consideration to the NLS staff before the meeting adjourned.

Filling gaps in series before adding new titles and expanding the foreign-language collection topped the group’s recommendation list. They also recommended that NLS evaluate the need for increasing production of fiction and nonfiction books dealing with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning issues and suggested evaluating national lending trends to determine the need for increasing production of adult fiction—including westerns, classics, and historical fiction—and nonfiction—including religious history, job-skill development, and employment-exploration titles.

      Other recommendations:

CDS head Ed O’Reilly assured the group that all recommendations would be considered and responses would be forthcoming.

The committee commended NLS for significant progress in the digital transition, hiring a foreign-language librarian, being proactive in communications with network libraries, and the selection of children’s natural history books. CDS staff members were also applauded for their excellence in developing the NLS collection despite fiscal limitations.

Collection Development Advisory Group Members

Consumer Organization Representatives

American Council of the Blind (ACB):
Steve Speicher

Blinded Veterans Association (BVA):
Peter Davis

National Federation of the Blind (NFB):
David Hyde


Fran Benham
St. Louis, Missouri

Betty Woodward
Wethersfield, Connecticut

Larry Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Philip Cooney
Sparks, Nevada


Andrew Shockley
Oklahoma Library for the Blind &
Physically Handicapped
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Teresa R. Faust
Vermont Department of Libraries
Special Services Unit
Berlin, Vermont

Jerry Reynolds
Manager: Talking Books/Special Needs
Jacksonville Public Library
Jacksonville, Florida

Keri E. Putnam
Nevada Talking Book Services
Nevada State Library and Archives
Carson City, Nevada

Children’s/Young Adult:
Elizabeth Burns
Youth Services Consultant
New Jersey State Library Talking
Book and Braille Center
Trenton, New Jersey

Talking-book program recognized for publication excellence

Communications Concepts announced that Talking Rooms: Walking through History at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Headquarters received an APEX 2010 Award of Excellence in the One-of-a-Kind Government Publications category.

Cover of Talking Rooms

The 20-page booklet explores the history of library service to blind and physically handicapped individuals by taking readers on a tour of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) headquarters at 1291 Taylor Street in northwest Washington, D.C. By means of brief visits to Taylor Street meeting and function rooms named in honor of braille and audibook pioneers, the publication highlights the program’s development from the use of phonographs to the recently released digital talking-book players. It features photographs of prominent contributors to the field, such as inventor Thomas Edison, activist Helen Keller, and the architects of the 1931 law that underpins the free library service program, Representative Ruth Pratt and Senator Reed Smoot.

Erica Vaughns, author of Talking Rooms and executive assistant to the NLS director, was delighted to learn the booklet had received the award. “Technology changes; the human desire and need to read do not,” she said. “I found it fascinating that NLS has continually adapted the use of advanced technologies to ensure that blind and physically handicapped people have the same access to reading materials as their sighted counterparts.

“I wanted to share the history of the NLS technological evolution from records to cassettes to flash memory and provide information about the people who helped improve the quality of life for so many.”

NLS director Kurt Cylke commended Vaughns’s conception of the project and her earning the APEX Award.

APEX Award publications are selected for “excellence in graphic design, editorial content, and the success—in the opinions of the judges—in achieving overall communications effectiveness and excellence.” The 2010 22nd Annual Awards for Publication Excellence drew 3,700 entries; 1,132 Awards of Excellence were presented in 127 categories and 100 Grand Awards honoring outstanding work in 11 categories were presented.

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