Spotlight on Quality: Kathleen Kappel

Blind and physically handicapped readers rely on the 112 NLS cooperating libraries across the country and in U.S. territories to provide braille and recorded books and magazines. In 2010 more than 26 million copies of NLS titles were circulated to a readership exceeding 900,000.

Kathleen Kappel
Kathi Kappel

These libraries provide more than reading materials. Many offer services that not only enrich their patrons’ reading experiences but also support independence in other areas of their lives.

This article, the fourth in a series that profiles librarians who exemplify the highest aspirations of the NLS mission, features Kathleen “Kathi” Kappel, director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) since 2002, who has three decades of experience in library service to individuals with disabilities.

NLS: Carnegie LBPH serves 36 counties in Western Pennsylvania; how many patrons do you serve? How many staff members and volunteers do you have?

Kathi: We have approximately 10,000 patrons served by 22 full-time staff members.  Vision and Voice, our volunteer program, currently boasts 60 active volunteers who perform many valuable tasks. Some narrate, monitor, and edit master recordings for our Pennsylvania Collection, which comprises titles about Pennsylvania history, works by regional authors, and stories set in our Keystone State. Others inspect and rewind audiocassette books, assist with mailing projects, and accompany staff on outreach trips.

And, of course, there are our Pioneers, who repair malfunctioning equipment. Without them our supply of working audiocassette players would dwindle even more rapidly. These volunteers are very self-sufficient, ordering parts, assigning tasks, recruiting new volunteers with targeted experience when necessary, and even making their own coffee! This is volunteerism at its best.

NLS: You are actively involved in fostering partnerships with various groups, especially with the disabled and special-needs communities. How do these partnerships come about?

Kathi: We talk about LBPH’s mission everywhere and with everyone, networking whenever and wherever possible. This might involve providing speakers for diverse groups, both profit and nonprofit, and discovering others’ passions. Friends and families, congregations, and social service groups are all good venues.

What I find most fun is connecting dots—being creative in forming unusual or unexpected partnerships, then coming up with a match that is beneficial to both LBPH and the partner. 

One such match is our Ready and Able program, a joint effort with the Pittsburgh Public Schools Community-Based Vocational Education Office. Student and young adult volunteers with autism edit new digital masters and have converted all of our previously recorded titles from analog to digital format. The program has helped the volunteers learn workplace protocol, social skills, and the use of public transportation—all while improving and expanding the library’s collections. It’s been so successful that it has been expanded to include volunteers with physical disabilities from United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh.

Another success is our Ellis School partnership, a pilot project with a Pittsburgh independent school to produce digital masters remotely. Students who pass their audition narrate books for our Pennsylvania collection in a specially designed area of the school. The equipment they use is also specially designed to compensate for ambient noises, so even without a soundproof booth, the sound quality is excellent. We plan to expand this program to include universities and other secondary schools across our service area.

Some partnership possibilities are obvious, others not so. But all of them can be beneficial.

NLS: The Carnegie Library’s LBPH received the NLS Network Library of the Year Award in 2007 and the AARP Award for Excellence that same year. What other awards have you received, on behalf of the library and personally?

Kathi: In 2009 I was honored to be appointed by Governor Ed Rendell to the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee for the Blind. In 2010 Carnegie LBPH was recognized as a Centennial 100 Supporter by the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh for our contributions over the past century. In 2008, we received the Senate of Pennsylvania Special Recognition Award, which is given to those libraries that make a profound impact on the communities they serve.

These are just a few of the awards the library, its staff, and volunteers have received over the years. There are many others, including the 2007 Francis Joseph Campbell Award, given to former LBPH director Sue Murdock for her pioneering efforts to automate libraries for the blind and physically handicapped, which culminated in the formation of a six-state, 15-library software consortium.

NLS: What are some of the more popular programs that Carnegie LBPH offers its patrons?

Kathi:  In addition to the on-site book discussion groups, which we plan to expand through communication technology, we provide several programs and initiatives that have been well received by patrons and the public alike. LBPH is always an active participant in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Summer Reading Extravaganza for families. Staff and volunteers offer hands-on activities to heighten awareness of non-print alternatives for reading and communication. An award-winning, staff-designed activity called Initially Braille is very popular.

For several years now students enrolled in the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Design have brought models of consumer products they have designed—cell phones, stovetops, cameras, irons—to our library, where they are examined and discussed by library patrons who are blind. The students modify their designs based on the feedback patrons give. The project culminates with a display of the students’ products at CMU that students, LBPH patrons, and a library representative attend.

LBPH readers have participated in two other research projects con-ducted by graduate students at CMU. One involved a touch screen powered by TeslaTouch, a technology developed by Disney Research, Pittsburgh. The two-dimensional touch screen uses electrostatic friction to render tactile shapes and images that may be “read” by touch. It has the potential to provide a novel means of communication for blind individuals and provide access to touch-screen graphics.

In the second project, library patrons were interviewed about how they navigate the city and use their senses to interact with their environment. This information will be used to develop a tactile “interactive map” to assist visually impaired individuals.  

NLS: Public relations and outreach are a very big part of Carnegie LBPH’s programming. What are some of the more successful events and projects?

Kathi: Staff members have visited all 36 counties that our library serves in our outreach van, Mobile LBPH, which was made possible by a grant from Commonwealth Libraries of Pennsylvania. In 2010 we visited 81 destinations, including health and senior expos, legislator fairs, personal care homes, libraries, schools, day-care centers, Lions Club meetings, and retirement communities, where we’ve demonstrated the digital player and signed up people on the spot. Mobile LBPH has been used as a model in other states.

We support outreach with an active publicity program. During the transition to digital—since 2006 we have been featured in nearly 100 articles, radio shows, and TV interviews reaching a minimum of 3 million or more people. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a lengthy article about the library and the NLS conversion to a digital format, and WDUQ, a Pittsburgh public-broadcasting station, also reported on the conversion.

NLS: Budget constraints are seriously affecting the network libraries’ operations—several have closed their doors during the past few years. How is the economy affecting Carnegie LBPH? What are you and your staff doing to deal with funding cuts?

Kathi: Because we are carrying six vacant positions, we are challenged to meet priorities and keep staff morale high. Fortunately, readers’ enthusiasm for digital service is contagious—hearing so many excited comments every day does help to keep our smiles showing.

We explore technology and use it whenever possible, particularly by enhancing CUL, our customized software registration-and-circulation system. We are also exploring the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other electronic methods to contact people and thus send out fewer mailings in order to conserve supplies and postage. We contact people via e-mail as much as possible. 

Our staff, volunteers, and partners design, create, and print materials in-house instead of outsourcing to more expensive vendors, and we produce fewer reference, program, and outreach materials at one time to keep information current while conserving supplies and reducing costs. We have also developed a news page for our website.

We have been forced to reduce the number of staff members who attend conferences and training seminars to save travel costs and fees. Instead we instituted cross-training within the Carnegie Library system, increased participation in webinars, and regularly schedule in-house seminars where staff attendees share their knowledge and experiences with others.

Then there are the obvious cost-savers, such as keeping the building cooler in winter and warmer in summer to conserve energy; not renewing expensive maintenance agreements on older equipment and, as much as possible, finding avenues to purchase replacements that have lengthy warranties; and scheduling multiple outreach visits on each trip in order to save on materials and travel costs. And for many years we have had to use private donations to pay for additions to the large-print and descriptive audio collections.

One of our most effective ways of dealing with the economic crunch is laughter—much, much laughter.

NLS: What are some of the biggest changes, good and bad, you have witnessed during your time as director?

Kathi: The conversion to a digital format is the most revolutionary change in services to blind and physically handicapped readers since the talking-book record was introduced in 1934. It is unfortunate that this transition is happening at a time when the current economic downturn has resulted in curtailed funding for libraries and missed opportunities to expand services when they are needed most.

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NLS audiobook expert West retires

Bill West
Bill West during a 2005 visit to the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The audio production specialist was instrumental in helping network libraries set up their own studios.

Bill West earned a national reputation as an audiobook-production expert before retiring from the NLS in August 2010. During his five decades of service, West introduced numerous technological tools for audiobook recording, such as the audible-tone volume unit (VU) meter, the finite-length or pre-timed open-reel mastering cassette tape, and the requirement for 50-hertz tone indexing. He researched methods of converting the analog process of audio recording into a digital process and designed the Low Complexity Mastering (LCM) system. LCM is the software used by most NLS network studios and contractors to mark up and produce digital audiobook files. During his tenure, he received seven promotions, nine awards and 41 letters of commendation.

NLS director Kurt Cylke said, “Bill West is one of the most dedicated and industrious people NLS has ever had the benefit of employing. He single-handedly developed a network of studios capable of producing the highest-quality audio recording and narration. He established standards for selecting and promoting preeminent studio narration personnel—standards so rigorous that only one in 50 applicants is rated as having an acceptable level of confidence and skill. These achievements are the direct result of his expertise and personality, which allow him to navigate difficult circumstances with ease and good humor. He will be missed.”

West was born and raised in Plymouth, North Carolina, the third of four boys born to Tom and Estelle West. He volunteered for the army and served for three years, before being blinded in a freak accident. After receiving a medical discharge, he moved to Washington, D.C. He married his wife Peggy just before starting work at the Library of Congress.

In the spring of 1963, West accepted a temporary three-month appointment to assess the volunteer talking-book recording program at the Library of Congress Division for the Blind and help assistant director Charles Gallozzi decide whether to scrap the program or invest in it. After three weeks of review, West recommended eliminating the program or hiring someone to take charge of it for one year. If at the end of the year the program was not vastly improved, that person could be fired and the program scrapped. West was hired for this job.

“The first thing I did was to sort through the personnel and see who did and didn’t have talent. Those who didn’t were terminated,” said West. He established formal procedures and best practices for the volunteer recording process. In 1965 West became head of the volunteer tape program.

In 1974, at the request of Cylke, the new division director, West pulled 100 random samples of commercially produced audiobooks and reviewed them according to volunteer standards and determined that 70 of them would have been rejected under the volunteer program. These results led NLS to introduce the first set of audiobook specifications that same year.

As libraries within the NLS network became interested in producing their own talking books, West was moved to the NLS Engineering Section, where he continued to provide technical assistance to volunteer groups, libraries, and commercial producers.

West’s reputation as a standard-bearer for quality was also growing. “In the first studio I was involved with building, I had a fight with the manufacturer. I said that I would not use for a dog house what they considered to be superb, state-of-the-art manufacturing and production,” remarked West.

“Bill has been a longtime advocate for the people working in the studios,” said John Bryant, head of NLS Production Control. “He was always making sure they had the right environment, right light, right tools—even the right air—to do their best work.”

Jamie Cutting, a longtime NLS audiobook producer, recalled, “At a time when we needed him most, Bill West was extremely generous with both his time and his knowledge.”

In his retirement, West enjoys being a patron of the NLS talking-book program.

NLS honors Blinded Veterans Association for 65 years of service

Gonzales family
Blinded army veteran Hugo Gonzalez, his wife Any, and daughters Lorelei, Leila, and Leilany.

Blind U.S. veterans whose military service ranges from World War II to the Afghanistan conflict convened at NLS headquarters in Washington, D.C., in August 2010 for a reception celebrating the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA’s) 65th anniversary. BVA members, their families, and friends from across the country were in the area to attend their annual convention in Arlington, Virginia.

The group was treated to a demonstration of the digital talking-book player by Michael Katzmann, NLS Materials Development Division chief. “I love that device. It’s wonderful,” said George Brummell, a Vietnam War army veteran from Silver Spring, Maryland, and author of Shades of Darkness: A Black Soldier’s Journey through Vietnam, Blindness, and Back.

Jim Hogan, a navy veteran from Los Angeles, noted there are two things blinded veterans want most to do: “They want to play golf and they want to read.”

Blinded Veterans Association Director Tom Miller shakes hands with NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke at reception
Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) executive director Tom Miller (center) is greeted by NLS director Kurt Cylke (left), NLS deputy director Robert Fistick (second from the right), and NLS Materials Development Division chief Michael Katzmann during the NLS reception celebrating BVA’s 65th anniversary.

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Young readers learn to use NLS BARD during summer camp

Clovernook camper
Clovernook camper Kyle Weisker listens to a book that he downloaded from BARD.

Each summer, the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Cincinnati, Ohio, offers a series of accessible day camps for young people with visual impairments. Art Camp attendees experiment with the crafts of many cultures, Survivor Camp attendees engage in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, Adventures in Activities of Daily Living attendees practice riding public transit, and Technology Camp attendees learn to use computers for many purposes—including, this year, downloading books from the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website.

“Jacqueline Conner, director of the NLS Multistate Center East in Cincinnati, was an advocate for teaching BARD, but we all embraced it,” explained Clovernook Youth Program coordinator Karen Schoenharl. “We had done a short ‘About BARD’ session in the spring that was popular, so it was an obvious addition to our summer program.”

The seven Technology Camp participants, who ranged in age from 8 to 12, were all eager to experiment with BARD. “I love downloading books,” Kyle Weisker declared after completing the week-long camp. “It takes so much weight off me and is a much simpler process. At first it was a little difficult, but now that I have done it so many times, it’s easy. Just awesome!”

In fall 2010, Clovernook built on the success of Technology Camp with a new program: Technology Weekends. A session on accessible books drew 25 parents and 13 kids. Clovernook plans to repeat both its summer camp program and its fall technology sessions in 2011. “We’ll keep teaching BARD as long as it’s needed,” said Schoenharl. “The technology is great. People just need a little help to get comfortable with it.”

Network Exchange


Marti Goddard, the access services librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, received the Mayor’s Disability Council Award for Excellence in September 2010 for her longtime efforts in providing San Franciscans with disabilities access to library services above and beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The awards are presented to individuals or organizations that exhibit outstanding leadership and are guiding lights in the community. Deputy city librarian Jill Bourne said, “We, of course, know Marti as a committed advocate for library services and are so proud to have her acknowledged in this way.”

California awardees
San Francisco Public Library staffers (left to right): Karen Strauss, deputy chief; Marti Goddard, access services librarian; and Brian Castagne from Project Read, the adult literacy program.

  South Carolina.

Pam Davenport
Pamela Davenport

Pamela Davenport, director of the State Library’s Talking Book Services, was awarded the South Carolina Library Association’s 2010 Outstanding Librarian Award in October 2010.

The award recognizes a librarian who has initiated or developed an imaginative or creative program, service, or work of enduring value for the effective use of, or increased interest in, libraries or a particular library. Davenport conducted the third annual unveiling of the Talking Book Services Student Art Gallery on October 27, which features the work of students from around the state who are blind, visually impaired, or physically handicapped.

“I am elated and humbled to be the recipient of this award,” Davenport said. “Working with blind and visually impaired readers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my library career.”

In Memoriam

Vicki Fitzpatrick, NLS senior writer-editor

Vicki Fitzpatrick
Vicki Fitzpatrick

Viola A. “Vicki” Fitzpatrick, a senior writer-editor for NLS for 25 years until her retirement in 2002, died October 12, 2010, at the age of 81.

Born in West Haven, Connecticut, Mrs. Fitzpatrick attended West Haven High School and graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University in 1951.

NLS hired Mrs. Fitzpatrick on a temporary detail at the end of 1976 to evaluate the NLS newsletter, News. The high quality of her work led to a second detail in 1977, after which she worked as a writer-editor in a permanent position with responsibility for News.

“The hallmarks of her newsletters were clear, concise writing; thorough research; inclusive reporting; and attractive use of limited space,” said Kurt Cylke, NLS director. “Vicki put her best into every task assigned to her. We have missed her since her retirement, and will do so even more sorely now.”

Upon her retirement in 2002, Mrs. Fitzpatrick received the Library of Congress’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, at the recommendation of Publications and Media Section head Robert Fistick, who is now deputy director of NLS.

Mrs. Fitzpatrick is survived by her husband of 58 years, Stuart H. Fitzpatrick of Gaithersburg, Maryland; her daughter, Kristine J. Fitzpatrick of Cheverly, Maryland; her son, Douglas C. Fitzpatrick of Mebane, North Carolina; and five grandchildren.

Terry Hayes Sales, talking-book narrator

Terry Hayes Sales, a singer, actress, and narrator of more than 900 NLS talking books recorded at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky, died November 29, 2010, in Rowley, Massachusetts. She was 94.

Mrs. Sales is likely to have been the narrator longest affiliated with APH, said Steve Mullins, APH studio director. She began narrating in 1938, just one year after the studio released its first talking book, Gulliver’s Travels. Her work spanned three medias—rigid disc, analog tape, and digital cartridges and included three narrations of Little Women as well as most titles in the Nancy Drew series. “People, in some ways, grew up with her,” said Mullins. “She had a remarkable ability to tell a story.”

Mrs. Sales was a high school sophomore when she landed her first professional gig as a staff singer on WBBN radio in her hometown of Chicago. She married Louisville native Stuart Sales when she was 19. While her husband served in the navy, Mrs. Sales hosted a talk show on WGN in Chicago and did some acting, including several commercials, before the couple settled in Kentucky. When Mrs. Sales heard about APH recording talking books, she considered it an acting opportunity.

In 1988, Mrs. Sales was inducted into the American Foundation for the Blind Talking Book Hall of Fame, making her one of the two living charter members cited for significant achievement in the narration of talking books.

Carolyn W. Field, children’s librarian

Carolyn Wicker Field, former coordinator of the Office of Work with Children at the Free Library of Philadelphia, died July 24, 2010, in Philadelphia at the age of 93.

“She was a strong advocate for children,” recalled Hedra Packman, director of Library Services at the Free Library. “She insisted that children’s services be offered by Philadelphia’s library for blind and physically handicapped people.”

Mrs. Field served as chairwoman of the American Library Association’s Newbery/Caldecott Awards Committee in the late 1950s, was a past president of the children’s division of the American Library Association, and in 1994 received the Distinguished Service Award from the Association for Library Service to Children.

In 1983, the year Mrs. Field retired from the Free Library, the Pennsylvania Library Association established an annual award in her name that honors the best children’s book by a Pennsylvania author or illustrator. 

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Braille Institute’s Digital Platinum Awards mark new era in reading for the blind and physically handicapped

In a tribute to the advent of digital talking books and players for blind and physically handicapped readers—and to the man who ushered in the new medium—Braille Institute Library Services (BILS), Los Angeles, presented the first Frank Kurt Cylke Digital Platinum Awards during its annual open house on October 22, 2010.

Platinum award
Designed by BILS Open House Committee members Tina Herbison, Kokoi Aryee, Siran Aytayan, and Alex Cruz, the crystal award represents a stack of three digital-book containers with a digital cartridge balanced on top.

BILS director Henry C. Chang and Open House Committee chair Tina Herbison presented NLS director Cylke with his own Digital Platinum Award for “thirty-seven years of unwavering leadership and commitment to the blind and visually impaired communities throughout the United States.” 

The new award recognizes the NLS transition from cassette books and machines to digital talking books on flash-memory cartridges and two models of digital players.

“I thank Dr. Chang and the Braille Institute Library Services for the recognition,” Cylke said. “But the real reward is seeing the joyful reception of this new equipment by blind and physically handicapped readers.”

The Digital Platinum Award, which succeeds the BILS Golden Cassette Award, is given to individuals and organizations that are standouts in the library community.

Other honorees included:
Marshall High School student Karen Acros-Moreno, a BILS patron since age four, who is a volunteer for the Blind Children’s Center and for the Los Angeles Marathon’s 5K on behalf of blind children.

Vernon, Jim, and Jarod Laub—three generations of volunteers who have donated many hours at the BILS Orange County Branch. Vernon is a volunteer and a patron; his son Jim and his grandson Jarod are machine-repair volunteers.

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