Talking Books

We came across some old applications for talking books while cleaning out a drawer recently in the library. We also uncovered a booklet about the program from the Library of Congress dated 1985. As I mentioned, we were cleaning things out.

According to Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, around 2% of people in Nebraska have a vision impairment. This amounts to nearly 700 people in Scotts Bluff County.

In the 1930s, Congress passed a bill to establish the National Library Service (NLS) through the Library of Congress. The purpose of the NLS is to provide accessible reading materials at no charge to people with vision impairment. 

In the 1930s, books were available in either Braille (which was newly standardized in the English-speaking world) or as a record album delivered to the person’s home. Some of the first books available included The Declaration of Independence (and other patriotic documents), three Shakespeare selections, Rudyard Kiplng’s “Bushwood Boy” and P.G. Wodehouse’s “Very Good Jeeves”. 

By the 1980s, the format was changing to a 4-track cassette tape. Audio recordings then and now are available in specialized formats so that only people with approved equipment can use them. 

Digital books for the blind showed up in 2012, and now only a few people still use cassettes. Digital format materials can be downloaded on a computer or through an app. They can also be mailed on a cartridge for use in a specialized reader.

Publishers and authors have copyright protections on their books, but they recognize the need to provide reading materials to blind folks. Publishers have made provisions that allow reproduction for the purpose of the NLS program. Now, major publishers provide their bestsellers in an audio format that can be used immediately.

“One thing I always like to stress about the program is that it is free. We may not have the selection that Audible does, but Audible costs money. And it would be nearly impossible for any one person to read every book in our collection,” says Gabe Kramer, director of Talking Book and Braille Services in Nebraska. Of course, books are available through this program, but magazines and musical scores are available as well. You can check out foreign language materials now, too.

According to Kramer, around 2700 people statewide use this service. Nearly half of them live in the Lincoln and Omaha area. 

You don’t have to be blind to qualify for Talking Books and Braille Services. Folks who are legally blind and individuals who are unable to hold reading material may also qualify. Folks with cognitive or neurological conditions that make reading difficult may qualify as well.

Qualified applicants can have access to unlimited free reading material. They also get a personal reader’s advisor who can select the kinds of books they want to read. 

The Nebraska Library Commission uses volunteer readers to record magazines and books. It takes the commission 6-18 months to record and process an audio book.

You can visit your local library to sign up for these services. You can also visit the Nebraska Library Commission’s web page and sign up online, type “talking books” in the search bar.

As I flipped through the applications we found in the drawer, I realized the oldest applicant was born in 1891. These folks all had a desire to continue reading and learning after their eyesight had deteriorated. I am proud that our library was able to connect them with the Nebraska Library Commission which was able to provide them reading material.

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