July–September 2016
Vol. 48, No. 3
Patron uses small, refreshable braille display to read from BARD in a park.
NLS patron Melanie Brunson, sitting with her guide dog Sparta, uses a refreshable braille display to read a book with the BARD Mobile app. Refreshable braille displays represent the text on a computer or mobile device screen in braille.

Congress allows NLS to explore providing refreshable braille displays

by Mark Layman and Mark Schwartz

A change in federal law has put NLS one step closer to realizing its goal of providing low-cost refreshable braille displays to patrons.

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law an amendment to the 1931 Pratt-Smoot Act that allows NLS to provide playback equipment in all formats, not just audio. The law previously authorized NLS expenditures “for [the] purchase, maintenance, and replacement of reproducers for . . . sound-reproduction recordings.” Sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and co-sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the amendment reads “for purchase, maintenance, and replacement of reproducers for any such forms,” allowing NLS to explore the possibility of making braille displays available to its patrons.

“Up until now, refreshable braille displays have been quite expensive―$2,000 and up,” said NLS Director Karen Keninger. “But new products are in the pipeline that promise to be much more affordable. If we can get a low-cost, low-maintenance, refreshable braille display in the hands of our patrons, it would open up worlds of information that currently are not available to them.”

Throughout its history, NLS has provided its patrons with the equipment they need to listen to talking books, starting with phonographs to play records in the 1930s, then cassette tapes in the 1970s, and now digital cartridges and players. When Keninger became director in 2012, she said one of her goals was for NLS to provide patrons a device to read electronic braille (ebraille) books and magazines. But that couldn’t be done without a change in the Pratt-Smoot Act, the NLS authorizing legislation.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this year recommended that Congress make that change. In its report, GAO said that NLS “is considering whether to adopt several new technologies for delivering braille and audio content to its users which have the potential to improve services and reduce costs. However, in one case—providing refreshable braille devices to its users—NLS’s efforts are hampered by limitations in its authorizing statute, among other factors . . . . Without a change in federal law, NLS will have to forgo the opportunity to provide braille in a more modern and potentially cost-effective manner by distributing refreshable braille devices to its users.” The amendment removed that legal barrier.

Keninger said patrons would benefit in many ways if NLS is able to provide free or low-cost refreshable braille displays. The devices are less bulky to store and carry than the multiple volumes of hard-copy braille books. Also ebraille can be delivered to patrons more quickly and is less costly than hard-copy braille, so NLS could produce more braille books.

The GAO report suggested that NLS could actually save money by providing refreshable braille displays. It cited a consultant’s study commissioned by NLS that estimated the total annual cost of producing, storing, and delivering hard-copy braille books and magazines at about $17 million.

The GAO report suggested that NLS could actually save money by providing refreshable braille displays.

But loaning refreshable braille displays to users and replacing hard-copy braille with ebraille could save almost $10 million per year, the study projected.

“One of the more popular examples my colleagues give to explain savings is the Harry Potter books,” said Keninger. “As the Harry Potter series became more successful, the books grew longer. The Order of the Phoenix book is 13 volumes long or 13 mailed packages. Using a braille e-reader would enable one to download the entire book at once.”

Promoting braille is one of NLS’s strategic goals, and as the GAO report acknowledged “braille is the literacy medium for those who are blind and visually impaired . . . Unlike audio, it is a direct corollary to print and displays features of print, such as capitalization and punctuation . . . . There is also some evidence suggesting that blind people have better employment outcomes if they use braille.”

“We can now investigate how to provide refreshable braille displays,” Keninger said. “Our patrons could have access to even more of the reading materials that they need to improve their quality of life and increase their engagement with the world. And that is what we’re all about.”

U.S. Senate confirms Dr. Carla Hayden as the 14th Librarian of Congress

by Mark Schwartz

Carla D. Hayden was sworn in on September 14, 2016, as the fourteenth Librarian of Congress, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on July 13, 2016. “This is truly a great honor, to be nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the nation’s library,” Hayden said. She is the first woman and first African American to serve as Librarian of Congress. 

Formal portrait of Hayden, smiling.
Carla Hayden worked with NLS in both the Illinois and Maryland regional public library systems. She has called NLS “vitally important.”

During the confirmation hearing, Senator Charles Schumer of New York asked Hayden what her vision was for NLS. Drawing on her experiences in public libraries on the state level in Illinois and Maryland, Hayden called NLS “vitally important” and would be “very supportive of expanding” the role of NLS in ensuring materials are digitized and available in formats that allow people with challenges to read in various ways. Hayden has worked with NLS throughout her career in both the Illinois and Maryland regional library systems that distributed materials for use by people who are blind, visually impaired, or have a physical disability that prevented reading.

Before addressing the Senate’s questions and concerns, Hayden had a chance to thank all for the honor of being nominated. She shared that her mother, who was an active patron of the public library in Queens, imparted to her a love of books. While living in Chicago, witnessing a librarian hold a story time event for children with autism, Hayden said she felt the call to librarianship, which launched “all of my subsequent professional experiences.”

Her early career included work as a children’s librarian and deputy commissioner in the Chicago Public Library system, where she ultimately rose to become its chief librarian. She then served for 23 years as the head of the public library system in Baltimore, leading major projects such as the renovation of its central library, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and other libraries in the 22-branch system. Since 1993, she has made sweeping technological upgrades during major budget shortfalls.

Having worked closely with her over the years, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland spoke of Hayden’s experience, citing her involvement with library services on the state level. “In 1994, Maryland was the first state in the nation to offer Internet services to its residents with the introduction of Maryland’s public online network,” stated Cardin. The service is housed within Enoch Pratt Free Library. “So Dr. Hayden does not just run the public library system in Baltimore City, she oversees the state library resource center that provides all Marylanders with access to Internet and other services.”

Hayden earned a B.A. from Roosevelt University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago. She has taught courses in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. She was honored with Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year Award in 1995 and served from 2003 to 2004 as the president of the American Library Association.

“I will be honored to build on the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position,” she told Congress, “to be part of a continuing movement  to open the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further and to make it a place that can be found and used, by everyone.”

Kentucky Branch Manager holds plaque as state and federal librarians stand beside her.
Kentucky Talking Book Library Branch Manager Barbara Penegor (center) with NLS Network Services Head Vickie Collins and Acting State Librarian Terry Manual.

Kentucky. Barbara Penegor, Kentucky Talking Book Library (KTBL) branch manager, received an award from NLS recognizing her and other KTBL staff for testing the WebReads library automation system developed for Talking Book libraries. Vickie Collins, head of the NLS Network Services Section, presented a plaque sharing NLS Director Karen Keninger’s message in both print and braille: “NLS Honors Barbara Penegor and the staff of the Kentucky Talking Book Library with deep appreciation for your commitment and the many devoted hours to the development of Web-READS.”

Three videos on YouTube highlight the braille and talking book program

by Lina Dutky

NLS has produced three two- to two-and-a-half minute testimonial videos featuring patrons discussing the benefits of the free braille and talking book library service. These videos are posted on the Library of Congress YouTube channel. Following are descriptions of each video and the links for viewing them.

NLS Braille and Talking Books

Patrons Herb, Mary, Melanie, Yasmin, Pete, Eddie, and Teriana speak about the benefits of receiving free braille and talking books, magazines, and music materials in the mail: The freedom to read their way.
https://youtu.be/udZ6NO5_x-Q Link outside of Library of Congress

NLS BARD and BARD Mobile

Patrons Ruth, Joy, Eddie, Herb, Melanie, Mary, and Teriana share the advantages of downloading free braille and talking books, magazines, and music materials through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site and the BARD Mobile app.
https://youtu.be/CIKG2HxnYMk Link outside of Library of Congress

NLS Music Materials

Patrons Eddie, Mary, Yasmin, and Joy express their enjoyment of receiving free audio, braille, and large-print music scores, texts, and other instructional music materials and recordings in the mail or downloading them through BARD.
https://youtu.be/sYZKXKNZBaY Link outside of Library of Congress

The videos are available for network libraries to use in their outreach activities and to share with their patrons by linking to them on their websites and social media.

Music Section’s 100-plus blog posts hit all the right notes

Patron uses braille score and plays piano.
Eddie, a patron since 1973, says he has studied piano from braille scores and has “borrowed materials ranging from Beethoven to some more modern composers.”

by Katie Rodda

NLS Music Notes is a blog for those who want, need, provide, or are generally interested in special-format music materials in braille, audio, and large print offered by the NLS Music Section. It aims to highlight the lesser-known materials, activities, and people that are integral to the Music Section and its music patrons. Four NLS staffers currently write weekly blog posts that focus on items from the collection, along with a variety of related music topics and activities. Past blog topics include newly added titles, profiles on braille music transcribers and their work, and free braille music giveaways, as well as interviews of patrons and narrators. NLS Music Notes’ readership is growing daily and new posts appear every Thursday. To read one of the over 100 blogs posted or to subscribe for future blogs, visit http://blogs.loc.gov/nls-music-notes/.

Posts feature Stevie Wonder, veterans, braille and talking books.
Two popular Facebook items: (left) NLS celebrates Stevie Wonder and (right) NLS braille and talking books promoted to veterans

NLS observes its first Facebook anniversary

by Gabrielle Barnes

NLS celebrated the first year of its Facebook page Link outside of Library of Congress on June 5, 2016. The page serves as an open forum where NLS patrons and institutional partners can receive and exchange information about the braille and talking book program.

As a major initiative of the NLS public education strategy, posts are specifically intended to garner attention and create visibility for NLS to reach the network of partners and prospective service subscribers who had little interaction with the programs that are offered. In just over a year,  the NLS page has surpassed expectations, having received more than 14,000 likes and an average of more than 1,000 viewers per day. An essential component of the digital media campaign involves posting messages that feature sections of the collections, articles on the NLS Music blog, updates to services, and network activities. The most popular posts of the past year included National Library Week celebrations and the birthdays of musician Stevie Wonder, novelist and screenwriter Aldous Huxley, and Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Canada’s ratification of Marrakesh Treaty increases global literacy opportunities

by Jane Caulton

On June 30, 2016, opportunities for increasing literacy of people who are blind or visually impaired got a boost as Canada became the twentieth country to sign the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the treaty may now be enforced by the countries that have acceded to the treaty.

The treaty was adopted at a WIPO diplomatic conference held in Morocco, Marrakesh, on June 27, 2013. At that time, more than seventy-five members of WIPO signed the treaty, allowing it to be considered for ratification. Countries that have ratified the treaty are India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Uruguay, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Canada. In the United States, the treaty has been signed by the President and is now in the Senate.

In sending it to the Senate, President Barack Obama said, “The Marrakesh Treaty lays a foundation, in a manner consistent with existing international copyright standards, for further opening up a world of knowledge for persons with print disabilities by improving their access to published works.”

The Marrakesh Treaty requires countries signing on to limit or make exceptions to copyright law to accommodate the literary needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. Organizations authorized to serve this population will be allowed to reproduce, distribute, and make accessible-format copies without cost to the recipients. The special-format copies may be distributed by noncommercial entities, which must ensure that only eligible persons receive the copies.

In this way, NLS Director Karen Keninger said the treaty is similar to the 1996 Amendment to the Copyright Law, introduced by Senator John H. Chafee (R-RI). Popularly called the Chafee Amendment, it “allows authorized entities to reproduce or distribute copies . . . of previously published nondramatic literary works in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.” Keninger said, “Such regulations protect the literacy rights of all humanity.”

The treaty also allows authorized organizations in the countries that have signed the treaty to export and import the accessible format copies under certain conditions. WIPO noted, “regarding importation, when an accessible-format copy can be made pursuant to national law, a copy may also be imported without right holder authorization. With reference to exportation, accessible format copies made under a limitation or exception or other law can be distributed or made available by an authorized entity to a beneficiary person or authorized entity in another Contracting Party.” The scheduled date for implementation in those countries that have ratified the treaty is September 30, 2016.  For more information, visit www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/marrakesh/summary_marrakesh.html Link outside of Library of Congress.

NLS hosts reception for International Council on English Braille during sixth General Assembly

by Claire Rojstaczer

On Tuesday, May 24, 2016, NLS Director Karen Keninger welcomed the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) to a tour of the U.S. Capitol and a reception in the Library of Congress Madison building.

Members of the ICEB Link outside of Library of Congress visited the library during its sixth General Assembly, which ran from May 21 to 26, in Baltimore and was followed by a one-day meeting for incoming ICEB executives. Over those six days, representatives from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States—including NLS Consumer Relations Officer and ICEB Secretary Judy Dixon—discussed the current state of braille in their countries. Unified English Braille (UEB), which NLS adopted in January of this year, was central to its discussion.

Advances in braille technology were discussed, with several posters describing refreshable braille devices currently under development and other speakers addressing issues in automated braille production. Other papers and posters focused on the promotion of braille literacy among both children and adults, discussing various teaching approaches and strategies for increasing buy-in and competency among educators. Specific attention was paid to the challenges of bringing UEB to countries where the availability of braille materials was extremely limited.

“NLS is pleased to see braille education receive so much attention,” said Keninger. “Improving braille literacy in the United States is one of our priorities, and we hope to learn from the work others have done.”