Newport, Rhode Island, site of 2012 National Conference

Photo of Newport harbor-front with rainbow behind town
Newport Harbor (Photo courtesy of Newport, Rhode Island, Convention & Visitors Bureau)

The 2012 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals will convene May 20–24 in Newport, Rhode Island.

The conference, titled Charting Our Course: Expanding Our Services, will discuss steps to be taken now that the digital talking-book system has been implemented. The Southern Conference will host a preconference workshop on digital talking-book production on Saturday, May 19, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Photo of Tudor-style Newport Art Museum
Newport Art Museum

Karen A. Keninger, new director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), will open the conference on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. (Keninger will be profiled in the April–June 2012 issue of News.) Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services director Howard Boksenbaum and Rhode Island Talking Books Plus regional librarian Andrew Egan will welcome conference attendees. NLS section heads will then present section overviews to the attending network librarians, and each regional conference will host a meeting.

Speakers Amy Bower and Rachael Scdoris
Speakers include NLS patrons Amy Bower (left), oceanographer, and Rachael Scdoris, professional dogsled racer. (Photo of Rachael Scdoris courtesy of Robert Aglie Photography)

Monday’s conference addresses will be given by NLS patrons Amy Bower, an oceanographer, and Rachael Scdoris, a professional dogsled racer and Iditarod contestant. Tuesday’s events will include an address on library advocacy by American Library Association president-elect Maureen Sullivan and a marketing workshop conducted by Christie Koontz, a marketing consultant and an associate in Information Studies at Florida State University. Wednesday’s focus will be on technology with updates provided by the NLS Automation Section.

Conference attendees will have a chance to mix and mingle at the Herman H.B. Meyer Memorial Reception in the Hotel Viking Grand Court on Sunday night. Keystone Library Automation System will host a reception at the Newport Art Museum on Tuesday evening.

City by the sea

Photo of Cliff Walk showing path and mansion
Cliff Walk (Photo courtesy of Newport, Rhode Island, Convention & Visitors Bureau

Newport, home to 24,000 people, was founded in the 17th century and was once a major port city. Today it is known primarily for being home to the U.S. Naval War College and the Naval Education and Training Command, as well as for its numerous colonial homes and Gilded Age mansions. Local attractions include:

Newport Cliff Walk. Originally a simple trail, this 3.5-mile stretch of shoreline now sports a paved path along most of its length. It provides both ocean vistas and glimpses of the town’s famous Gilded Age mansions.

Newport Historic District. The city center of Newport was designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s to preserve its early- and mid-18th-century colonial buildings. Located along the waterfront, the district includes many shops and restaurants.

International Tennis Hall of Fame. Located in the historic 19th-century Newport Casino, the International Tennis Hall of Fame features an exhibit of tennis artifacts and memorabilia. The six-acre property is also equipped with 13 grass courts.

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NLS deputy director Fistick retires

Photo of Bob Fistick at lectern
Bob Fistick addresses the audience during the NLS 80th anniversary celebration on March 3, 2011.

Robert E. (Bob) Fistick, NLS deputy director since 2007 and a key player in the NLS transition to digital technology, retired December 30, 2011.

Fistick became special assistant to the director in 2005 and served as acting chief of the Materials Development Division until mid-2006, when he became acting deputy director. He was named deputy director the following year. In that capacity Fistick assisted the director with program and policy administration and managed the NLS digital transition. He played a prominent role on the Digital Audio Development executive committee (1998–2007) and the Digital Implementation Project committee (2007–2009), which planned and executed the NLS digital talking-book system.

“Bob was an invaluable help to me during the time we worked together,” said Ruth Scovill, NLS acting director since February 2011. “Without his passion for the program, institutional knowledge, vision, and assistance on the day-to-day matters, it would have been a very difficult transition.”

Photo of Bob Fistick with a group
Fistick (second from right) talks with (from left) former NLS director Kurt Cylke, Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) executive director Tom Miller, and NLS Materials Development Division chief Michael Katzmann during the August 2010 NLS reception celebrating BVA’s 65th anniversary.

As head of the Publications and Media Section from 1983 to 2005, Fistick was responsible for the NLS printing program and national outreach.

Fistick first came to NLS in 1980, as head of the Production Control Section, after a long career as a journalist and newspaper publisher.

In 1961 Fistick enrolled in Cornell University and left in 1965—just one semester shy of graduation. He became a police reporter for the Utica, New York, Observer–Dispatch and Daily Press until 1966, when he joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in the Air Force for six years, two of them on active duty, and completed his Cornell education in 1968, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in communication arts.

Shortly after graduation, Fistick became a reporter for the Daily Press newspaper in Newport News, Virginia. He left the publication in 1970 and moved to Albany, New York, where he worked as the executive city editor and executive Sunday editor for the Times-Union for the next seven years. In 1977, he moved south again, taking the helm of a group of weekly newspapers in Southern Maryland owned by Whitney communications in New York City.

In retirement, Fistick plans to continue his 60-year involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. He received the Silver Beaver Award—the Boy Scout’s highest local council award for service to youth—in 1994. He was awarded the National St. George Award of the Episcopal Church in 1991 for his exceptional contributions to the religious life of youth in scouting.

Miller, NLS equipment control officer, retires

Jim Miller retired at the end of 2011 after more than 45 years of federal government service—nearly 28 of them as equipment control officer with NLS. He came to NLS after serving two tours of duty with the army’s Ninth Infantry Division at the height of the Vietnam War. Miller also served as a Washington, D.C., police officer in the early 1970s and, for a time, oversaw supply operations at Washington National Airport.

Photo of Jim Miller at desk
Jim Miller

“When I came to NLS there were so many problems with machine distribution,” Miller recalled. “The director, Kurt Cylke, said, ‘What can we do?’ I said the thing is to find out where there are shortages and where there are surpluses and match them up. So that is what I did.” Miller also helped update and strengthen accountability and control procedures for NLS talking-book machines and accessories.

Miller recalled some memorable moments from his career at NLS:

  • Getting a call from the U.S. Border Patrol office in New Mexico asking what to do with a talking-book machine that agents had recovered from a truck driven by a would-be illegal immigrant.
  • Learning that a post office—he doesn’t remember in what state—had called police about a suspicious package left at its front door. The bomb squad blew up the package, only to discover it had contained a talking-book machine. “We didn’t get that one back,” Miller said.
  • Tracking down a digital talking-book machine (DTBM) that was offered for sale illegally on eBay. “I predicted that would happen within six months after the players came out—it was more like three months.” The seller told Miller the DTBM was in a desk he had bought at a state auction. After Miller explained the DTBM was government property, the seller returned it to NLS.
  • Meeting 111-year-old Marion Bigelow Higgins, the oldest person in California at the time, at an event at the Braille Institute Library in Los Angeles. “Mrs. Higgins, an author, said, ‘Because you gave the best speech of all I’m going to give you a personally signed copy of my book.’ I have her book at home in the den, right up on the shelf so I can see it.”

Miller is looking forward to spending more time with his five children, 30 grandchildren, and new great-granddaughter. He also plans to remain active in his church and to volunteer at a local food bank. And even though he has visited all 50 state capitals during his various careers, there is a lot of the United States he still wants to see, so he’s dreaming of a cross-country train trip—returning by way of the Canadian Rockies.

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DC Library’s Adaptive Services Chief Demson presented 2011 “I Love My Librarian” Award

Head-and-shoulders photo of Venetia Demson
Venetia Demson

On December 8, 2011, Venetia Demson, chief of the Adaptive Services Division of the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library in Washington, D.C., and nine other librarians were presented with the 2011 “I Love My Librarian” Award. More than 300 guests attended the ceremony, which was held in the Times Center in New York City and featured keynote speaker Caroline Kennedy.

“I am honored to join you tonight to celebrate 10 outstanding librarians and the thousands more you represent,” said Kennedy. “This award is truly significant because the nominations received from across the country show that libraries continue to play a critical role in our democracy, and that librarians are once again on the front lines of a battle that will shape the future of our country. . . . Your work is truly life-changing.”

Administered by the American Library Association, the award encourages library users to recognize the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, or university librarians. More than 1,700 library patrons submitted nominations for the 2011 award.

In the nomination he submitted, patron Oral Miller said of Demson, “She embodies what a library should be—a safe haven for all and a portal to the world and the resources we all need to be successful and enrich our lives.” Miller’s nomination highlighted the many extraordinary programs Demson has initiated and supported at the D.C. Public Library, including the Accessibility Camp, a user-driven workshop on web accessibility that has been replicated in 12 locations around the world, including Poland, South Korea, and Mongolia.

Shahinaz Gadalla, the mother of a participant in the D.C. library’s braille book club for kids—an activity Demson launched through a partnership with the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind—said, “The supportive environment throughout the book club helped my daughter to identify some role models. This was the right start for her. I feel the braille book club is a very special activity. This activity initiated a community through which children and families connected.” 

“Librarians are once again on the front lines of a battle that will shape the future of our country. . . . Your work is truly life-changing.”

—Caroline Kennedy

Upon accepting her award, Demson said, “This was so exciting. What it means to me is the opportunity to tell people about the importance of inclusive and accessible library services. Everyone deserves the freedom to independently access reading and information at their public library and to independently access their programs. Recognizing me is really recognizing the community of people with disabilities that I serve.”

Friends of the Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of North America

Emmanuelle Lo, 12-year-old NLS patron, writes and records Christmas song

Sitting in the living room of her family’s Michigan home in 2010, Emanuelle Lo strummed “Silent Night” on the guitar she was just learning to play.  As she sang the lyrics, another song began to take shape in her mind, and the “Night of Our Lives,” which became a YouTube sensation, was born.

Two photos: (1) Emmanuelle Lo singing into mic, and (2) Lo playing guitars with Alfonso Ponticelli.
Emmanuelle Lo in the studio (left) and rehearsing with professional musician Alfonso Ponticelli.

“I had wanted to write a Christmas song for a while,” she explained.

A few months later music producer Doug Nelson created a video for the song during a recording session with Emmanuelle. In 2011, the video went viral and has had more than 28,000 views to date.

Blind since birth and a patron of Michigan’s Talking Book Program since 2009, Emmanuelle has had an interest in music for as long as she can remember. “I have been playing the piano since age 3,” she said.  “My mom taught me some [piano] chords, and when I was 8, I started viola lessons. For most of my life, I have been playing music by ear, although recently I started learning to read braille music. I started learning guitar when I was 11, just before writing ‘Night of Our Lives.’”

Emmanuelle writes many songs that she describes as “unique,” but “Night of Our Lives” strikes a chord with most who hear it. Once the video for the song was uploaded onto YouTube, word spread about the young talent. She was featured on the Chicago daytime show Windy City Live and World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer. 

Nelson was introduced to Emmanuelle through a friend who told him he had to hear the then-11-year old sing. “When she broke into ‘Night of Our Lives’ I was moved—as was everyone else in the room,” said Nelson. He invited her to come to a studio to record the song and create a video. 

Upon seeing Nelson’s enthusiasm and hearing Emmanuelle, other noted musicians eagerly volunteered to help record the song. Larry Millas, a founding member of the rock band the Ides of March, engineered the project and guitarist Alfonso Ponticelli played and appeared in the video. “Alfonso needed nothing more than to hear the song,” said Nelson. “He realized that this was something very special.”

With all that is happening for Emmanuelle, and with the maturity with which she handles her burgeoning fame, it is easy to forget that she is still young and enjoys being a preteen. She regularly rides her tandem bike with her sister, swims, and plays make-believe with her brothers. She also loves to read. 

“Night of Our Lives” is on YouTube and is available for download on iTunes and Amazon.  A portion of the proceeds goes to the Opportunity Music Project, a nonprofit organization that arranges free music lessons to children whose family cannot afford the costs. Learn more about Emmanuelle Lo at Link outside of Library of Congress

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Braille Challenge in full swing

At the January 26 Georgia Regional Braille Challenge, NLS patrons Ayana Ford and Anna Walsh took first and second place at the varsity level. The competition, founded by the Braille Institute in Los Angeles and hosted by the Georgia Academy for the Blind and the Atlanta Braille Volunteers, included multiple-choice tests on reading comprehension, tactile-graph comprehension, and proofreading. Students also demonstrated their speed and accuracy by listening to a recorded story while transcribing it in braille.

Photo Ayana Ford and Anna Walsh wearing Georgia Braille Challenge T-shirts
Ayana Ford (left) and Anna Walsh.

The two girls, both tenth graders at the Alabama School for the Blind, were proud to show the other attendees—all from Georgia—what residents from their state could do. “I was very nervous, but it was a great experience,” Ayana said. Anna agreed. “It was fun, and I would certainly do it again.”

They may have their chance at the Braille Challenge finals, scheduled for June 22–23. Sixty finalists—the 12 highest-scoring contestants from five age brackets—will be invited to the Braille Institute’s Los Angeles headquarters for the two-day event. Of those, 15 winners will receive cash awards and braille notetakers. At the close of the event the Braille Institute will announce the recipient of its annual Teacher of the Year award.

The Braille Institute hosts the nationwide event each year, giving students in grades 1–12 the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at reading and writing braille. Hundreds of students have already competed in the preliminary phase of the 2012 contest, which began in January and runs through mid-March. Most students participate by attending one of 39 regional events around the country, though the Braille Institute also gives students the option of completing the contest individually under the supervision of a teacher.

Finalists will be announced on May 1. For now, Ayana and Anna revel in their accomplishment—and look forward to next year when the Alabama School for the Blind plans to host its own regional event for the first time.

In memoriam:

Marvine Wanamaker, retired assistant to the director, NLS

Marvine Wanamaker—who began her career at NLS in 1982 as head of the Administrative Section and retired in 2005 as assistant to the director—died February 3, 2012, in her native Georgia, from complications following knee surgery. She was sixty-five.

“Marvine was a very generous spirit; she always wanted to help people,” recalled Carolyn Sung, chief of the NLS Network Division, a longtime friend and colleague.

A graduate of the University of Georgia, Wanamaker taught high school English and French, coordinated student orientation at Western Kentucky University, and worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before joining NLS. Later in life, after complications of diabetes diminished her eyesight, she also became a patron of the NLS talking-book program.

Wanamaker received numerous accolades during her career at NLS. Among them were Special Achievement Awards for her work on the 2002 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals and for putting in place a property accounting system for talking-book machines. She also received a Special Achievement Award in 1995 for coordinating the renovation of the NLS facility on Taylor Street N.W., a project that had been in the planning stages since before she joined the agency.

Wanamaker served on the supervisory committee and later the board of directors of the Library of Congress Federal Credit Union (LCFCU).

Survivors include her husband Daniel K. Wanamaker of Bristow, Virginia; sisters Arlean Barrett of Dahlonega, Georgia, and Verba Jean Gilreath of Athens, Georgia; brother Larry Rider of Winder, Georgia; and several nieces and nephews.

South Korean Librarian visits U.S. libraries for the blind and physically handicapped

Photo of South Korean librarian Keun Hae Youk with Carolyn Sung at NLS headquarters

Keun Hae Youk, (left), CEO of the Korean Braille Library in Seoul, South Korea, is given a tour of NLS headquarters in Washington, D.C., by Carolyn Sung, chief of the NLS Network Division, on February 17, 2012. Between February 17 and 24, Keun and other delegates of the Korean Braille Library visited NLS; the Adaptive Services Division of the D.C. Public Library; the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Free Library of Philadelphia; the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, New York Public Library, New York City; and the Perkins School for the Blind Braille and Talking Book Library, Watertown, Massachusetts.

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