“How we do things is not important; it is getting them done that matters,” Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), told a gathering in the Mumford Room of the Madison Building, Library of Congress (LC), on March 26. “It is OK to do things differently, as long as we get them done—you may even bring a little spice into the mix.”
Keninger was the featured speaker at the LC Organization of Employees with Disabilities event celebrating the 2013 observance of Women’s History Month. In her speech, “The Three Faces of Disability: A Personal Journey,” Keninger discussed perceptions—those of the people with disabilities and those of society about people with disabilities—and the ways they have shaped her life.
“The first aspect, or face, of disability is the physical inability to do what it is that other people can do,” Keninger said. “I am blind, but I had a very supportive family and my mother’s mantra was ‘she has got to grow up and do it just like everybody else.’”
But “the bigger thing about disability is how I perceive it,” she added. “If I am angry or frustrated, or if I blame everybody else for what is going wrong in my life or I am too scared to do something because I cannot see, then I am not going to do anything. Disability will often do that to people.”
Fear of being different took its toll on Keninger during her freshman year of college. “I had the skills to do the things that I wanted to do but I did not have any confidence,” she explained. “All of a sudden, I felt like I was different; I was weird. So I holed up in my room to study. It was a lonely, sad year for me, and it was because of my attitude about my blindness.”
"Nothing is impossible. It could cost an awful lot or I could be too lazy to do it. But if I want it badly enough, I will figure out how to get it."
—NLS Director Karen Keninger
Fortunately, she said, she “got over it” and regained her confidence. But her renewed faith in her abilities was not always shared. Keninger recounted going before a board of instructors to present her case on why she should be allowed to major in biology. “They said no, no, and heck no. It came down to this: ‘We could not hold our heads up in professional circles if we gave you a degree,’” Keninger said. “There are not many things in life I would like to do over, but that conversation is one of them. I would have won if I could have it now.
“A lot has changed,” she continued, crediting the Americans with Disabilities Act and “activism of people in the disability community saying, ‘we are here and we are important and you need to let us out and be part of the world.’ But it is not over.
“In 2008 I wanted to do a volunteer project that involved teaching English as a second language to immigrant factory workers in Minnesota. The only requirement was being a native English speaker, so I qualified,” Keninger said. She signed up for the project and let the organizers know that she was blind “because I figured sometimes there is no point in shocking people—it was no big deal. Well, it was a big deal. The man that I talked to had been overseas for 30 years—maybe that was why he was so forthcoming. Anybody who has hired knows there are things you do not say in the hiring process—he had not had that class. He said, ‘We think you would be a drag on the team.’
“This is one of those situations where you have a choice. You can say forget it, or you can say, this is wrong and I am going to fight it. Well, I was not going to put up with this.” Keninger insisted on meeting the man in Minneapolis to talk to him about it. “And he said, ‘OK, OK, you can come. Not to Minneapolis, but you can join the team.’
“It worked out,” Keninger said. “But that kind of thing should not happen—and it still does.”
“I have been lucky and I have an obligation to others to keep pushing the boundaries.”
–NLS director Karen Keninger
Keninger shared three important lessons she has learned over the years. “The first is that nothing is impossible. It could cost an awful lot or I could be too lazy to do it. But if I want it badly enough, I will figure out how to get it,” she said.
“The second is that it is OK to be me; it is OK to be blind because my blindness is only one of many things that makes me me. The third is that I have been lucky and I have an obligation to others to keep pushing the boundaries; to educate and to model so that other people who have disabilities or who have other insecurities will see that it can be done—and have the courage to do the things that they want to do.”
Isabella Marqués de Castilla, the new NLS deputy director, arrived on April 22. “I am excited and honored to serve as the NLS deputy director, working together with its experienced and knowledgeable staff,” she said. “I believe in the mission of making reading materials accessible to blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled individuals.”
Marqués de Castilla has been with the Library of Congress (LC) since 2003. She has held various positions in the Library Services service unit, of which NLS is a component. Because of her intimate familiarity with the service unit, “NLS has been on my radar as a critical service,” she said. “The program has a great commitment to using its resources and technological advances to meet the needs of its customers.”
Before joining the NLS team, Marqués de Castilla served as head of the Middle East Section of the Library Services Acquisition and Bibliographic Access Directorate, where she was responsible for acquisitions and cataloging operations of materials from Central Asian countries and the Middle East region. She also held positions as a program specialist in the office of the deputy associate librarian for Library Services operations and as a senior cataloging specialist in the Germany Section of the Germanic and Slavic Division. Additionally, Marqués de Castilla has worked in the LC Law Library, the Young Readers’ Center, the Professional Visitors’ Program Office, and the Asian Division. Prior to the Library, she worked in the private sector in the United States and abroad, including positions at Nortel, General Dynamics, and Potters Europe.
Marqués de Castilla has lived in Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and intermittently in Spain and Italy. In addition to her Library career, she has extensive experience in business, program, and project management and speaks German, Spanish, English, and Italian. She holds a degree in European history; certificates in Italian, German, and British studies; and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science.
“My career has taken me many interesting places. The main principles that have guided my work involve people, process, and communication,” Marqués de Castilla said. “I look forward to applying those principles in support of the director and the NLS team.”
Marqués de Castilla said she strives to provide leadership and support while drawing from positive and effective experiences—as well as lessons learned—throughout her career. “For me every day is a journey in which I am always learning from effective leaders and personal role models,” she said.
“The main principles that have guided my work involve people, process, and communication.”
—NLS deputy director Isabella Marqués de Castilla.
Regarding her management style, Marqués de Castilla said she prefers person-to-person interaction whenever possible. “Rather than call or e-mail, I like to visit people and see them in action.”
In her first month at NLS, Marqués de Castilla spent time with each section familiarizing herself with organizational priorities, goals, and daily operations. In the future, she also plans to visit several of the regional libraries to meet and interact with the NLS network staff that contributes to the program’s success.
“Isabella brings a wealth of experience to this position, along with a fresh perspective as well as planning and organizational skills. We are happy to have her join us,” said Karen Keninger, director of NLS.
An NLS patron in New Jersey inspired a character with macular degeneration in a series of novels by New York Times bestselling author Mary Jane Clark.
Ottilie Lucas, secretary of the Friends of the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, invited Clark to speak at the library’s 2009 Fall Festival. During the festival, Clark shared that she had a relative with macular degeneration, a medical condition causing central vision loss. She also has a son with a developmental disability. Members of the group recommended that Clark speak with Lucas, a former rehabilitation teacher for people with macular degeneration and other disabilities who is visually impaired.
After the festival, “we continued our correspondence and one thing led to another,” Lucas said of Clark. “She decided to include a character in her next book with macular degeneration.”
And so was born Terri Donovan, introduced in 2011’s To Have and to Kill, the first book in Clark’s Wedding Cake Mysteries series.
“Mary Jane asked me to give her some specific areas of difficulties or ways to identify symptoms that a person may be experiencing macular degeneration,” Lucas said. These include blurred vision and difficulty discerning the intensity of colors—symptoms shared by Terri Donovan, who runs a bakery and is the mother of the protagonist of the series, struggling actress Piper Donovan.
“It is important to me, as the mother of a son with his own challenges, to write about people who deal with what life sends their way with grace and dignity, and Ottilie is such an inspiration,” Clark said. “She helped me so much in the creation of Terri Donovan—a mother who faces macular degeneration head-on, who doesn’t feel sorry for herself and is determined to adapt to the challenges she faces. I wish I was as brave as Terri and Ottilie!”
Lucas, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, has been a member of Friends of the New Jersey Library for 15 years, and secretary of the 1,000-member group since 2006. But her relationship with the New Jersey Talking Book and Braille Center (TBBC) dates to 1966, when she became a patron. She worked at TBBC as a rehabilitation teacher from 1975 to 2002.
Despite the similarity in having a visual disability, Lucas points out one big difference between herself and Terri Donovan:
“I love to give parties and cook, but I am not so talented in that area!”
Still, she has accomplished much. “I will be 71 this year,” she said. “I have been married for 49 years, have been on more than 20 ocean cruises since 2002, and do lots of fulfilling things. I even got my driver’s license—but I shouldn’t have. My husband rode with me once and told me ‘never again.’ Giving up driving was one of the hardest things I ever did, but I knew it wasn’t safe.”
It came as no surprise to TBBC director Adam Szczepaniak that Lucas would inspire a character in a book. “I am amazed by the strength of our patrons. Their stories are real and genuine and do make for interesting characters for a novel.”
Lucas agrees. “People with visual disability are people first. We all have different personalities and abilities, and we all live very full and productive lives.”
In fact, Lucas cannot imagine having a better life if she didn’t have retinitis pigmentosa. “I realized that God did not expect me to do what he did not give me the ability or talents to perform, but he did expect me to use those gifts that he gave me.” That’s a beliefTerri Donovan exhibits as well.
Massachusetts. Gov. Deval Patrick visited the Perkins Library in Watertown on January 24 to read from his memoir A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life. Patrick was invited by the library’s Elder Book Club, which read his memoir last summer. A video of the event is posted on YouTube.
Also in Massachusetts, the Worcester Talking Book Library participated in a Computer and Technology Open House on March 21 that drew more than 100 visitors. Patrons and others were shown how to us e NLS digital talking-book machines and how to download books and magazines from the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service.
Arizona. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett celebrated National Library Week on April 17 by recording the children’s book Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer in the studio of the Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL) in Phoenix. “It was a rewarding experience, conveying what was on the page knowing someone was going to learn and experience something new from the words I was reading,” Bennett said after the two-hour recording session.
Montana. The Montana Talking Book Library in Helena celebrated the launch of its digital recording program and its first “born-digital” audiobook, Hand Raised: The Barns of Montana, with an open house on March 20. The library produced the book in partnership with the Montana Historical Society Press. The open house included tours of the library and recording studio and the chance to meet local authors. Regional librarian Christie Briggs said nearly 200 people attended. The open house was part of “No Story Should Go Untold,” the library’s 18-month patron outreach project.
Pennsylvania. Kathleen Rega Kappel, director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) since 2002, received a Woman of Achievement Award for 2013. Kappel was honored along with this year’s other winners at a March 6 dinner attended by about 400 guests. The awards are sponsored by the Allegheny County district attorney’s office and recognize women who excel in their profession, help advance and mentor other women, and participate in noteworthy community activities and volunteer work.
A thank-you from Watertown
The search in Watertown, Massachusetts, for the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect had Perkins School for the Blind on lockdown on April 19. Fortunately it was spring break week, so few students were on campus.
Library director Kim Charlson posted an update to the LBPH listserv that morning and said she was gratified by the caring response from the network.
Typical of the many replies to her post was this one from Susan Neal Roberts, bureau chief of the Braille and Talking Book Library at Florida Division of Blind Services: “Take care and know that we all across the country have you in our thoughts and prayers. That goes for Dolly too!” (Dolly is Charlson’s guide dog.)
Carolyn Hoover Sung, who was chief of the Network Division at NLS for 17 years, retired in January after a 47-year career with the Library of Congress (LC).
As Network Division chief Sung monitored the relationship between NLS and more than 100 cooperating libraries in its network. In this capacity she was responsible for working with consumers, providing reference services to NLS patrons and the general public, providing direct service to American citizens living abroad and music patrons across the country, and overseeing the NLS warehouses in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Salt Lake City, Utah. “I am committed to customer service and customer satisfaction,” she said.
Among her proudest achievements, Sung said, were helping to plan and implement the transition from analog to digital talking books and creating the Network Library of the Year Awards, now in their ninth year. “It was our way of recognizing the unsung heroes who ensure that blind and disabled people can keep on reading,” she said.
Sung also cited her efforts to integrate the Internet into the NLS program. “We came a long way in the past 17 years in terms of being able to communicate,” she said. “It was very difficult in the analog era to distribute information in a timely and effective manner.”
One way Sung promoted use of the Internet was by initiating the distribution of network bulletins and operations alerts to cooperating libraries via e-mail. She created the Web Ordering and Warehousing (WOW) system, which enables cooperating libraries to order materials online from NLS and the multistate centers. She also consulted with the Automation Office on the development and launch of the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site.
Sung helped strengthen the NLS music program by expanding its digital collection through contract and gift sources as well as through the in-house creation of digital materials.
While she played a key role in many high-profile initiatives, much of Sung’s day-to-day work was done quietly—but it was no less important. “When you’re in a cooperative network and your main objective is to help people cooperate, the work that you do is often invisible but essential to the network,” she said. “Former director Kurt Cylke used to say that when people didn’t notice there was anything wrong and there was nothing to talk about—when the network was running smoothly—that’s when we were doing our best work.”
Sung began her LC career as a searcher trainee in the old Card Division at the Navy Yard. Three months later she joined the Manuscript Division, where she worked for a dozen years. She reassembled the manuscript collection of 19th century American politician, editor, and historian Peter Force and became the authority on the Peter Force Library, which Congress purchased in 1867. She served as head of the Manuscript Reference and Reader Services Section in the 1970s. She also was assistant chief for bibliography services of the Photoduplication Service for three years, acting director of Preservation for a year, and executive officer of Research Services and later Constituent Services from 1981 to 1995.
She holds a BA from Winthrop College in Rock Hill, South Carolina; an MA from the University of Maryland; and a PhD from George Washington University. She is a certified archivist and a member of multiple professional organizations.
In her retirement Sung is working on a biography of Force and volunteering in the Library’s Manuscript Division.
The transition of audio magazines from cassettes to cartridges this spring completed the digital conversion of the NLS talking-book program that began in 2009.
Cartridges offer superior sound quality, more in-depth navigation, and can hold multiple magazines or books.
As with books on digital cartridge, magazines need to be returned for reuse to help keep costs down and potentially expand the magazine program. The cartridge loan period for weekly publications is one week after it is received. The loan period for monthly, bimonthly, and quarterly publications is one month after the cartridge is received.
Magazine cartridges are returned the same way as book cartridges: all a patron has to do after reading a publication is place the cartridge back in the red container, flip the mailing card on the container, and place it with the outgoing mail.
“Timely reading and returning of magazine cartridges will help NLS continue to provide the high-quality audio-magazine program our patrons have enjoyed,” NLS director Karen Keninger said.