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July 7, 2011

IMLS Press Contacts
Natasha Marstiller, [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 
Mamie Bittner, [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 

July 2011 Project Profile: State Talking Book Libraries: Programs for
People with Visual or Physical Disabilities 


Pictured: "Good Book, Good Friends". (Photo provided by 
Library of Congress)

Talking books are wonderful and make my life so much better.
--Patron, Spokane Valley, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library

It is such a blessing to have talking books. Multiple sclerosis has
taken a great deal of my vision.
--Patron, Kentucky Talking Book Library (KTBL)

IMLS provides funding to state libraries through its Grants to State
Library Administrative Agencies
<> , the largest of all of its
grant programs. In 2009, 10% of this funding directly supported
libraries for the blind and physically disabled. State libraries around
the country provide critical services to visually and physically
impaired Americans including braille materials and specially recorded
audiobooks also known as "talking books". Materials are mailed to
patrons at no cost and provide an important lifeline to the world for
many housebound or elderly patrons. 

For two of these libraries-the Kentucky Talking Book Library (KTBL) and
the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL)-success has
continued, despite recent budget cutbacks, thanks to dedication from
volunteers, strong connections with community groups and patrons, and
the enthusiastic adoption of new technology. 

"I think a lot of people believe, 'There are lots of audiobooks and
ebooks out there, [those who are visually and physically impaired] don't
need anything special.' But I don't think people realize the very small
percentage of materials that are available in alternate formats," said
Barbara Penegor, Kentucky Talking Book Library Branch Manager. "If you
go into your local public library, sure they have audiobooks on CD ...
but they don't have the number of books available through our service,
or they don't have the breadth of service. Most of them will have the
bestsellers or popular things, but we're able to provide them with stuff
like cookbooks and books on disability and biographies of lesser-known
historical figures." 


Click on image to access video (YouTube)
Introduction to the Kentucky Talking Book Library 

New Technology Increases Access and Enhances User Experiences
The integration of new technology has revolutionized how talking book
libraries function. Since the 1970's, talking book libraries had relied
on analog cassette players to play recorded books. Recently, however,
the libraries have begun transitioning to new digital players-a move
that has been met with great enthusiasm from patrons. With an entire
book on a single digital cartridge, digital players eliminate the
frustration of changing and flipping tapes, a major improvement for
patrons with physical disabilities or lack of strength. "If you have
limited dexterity, the cassette buttons took a bit of pressure to push,
whereas the digital machine buttons are soft touch, so it doesn't take
any strength at all to push them," explains Penegor.

In Washington, word of mouth about the new technology helped spur
renewed interest in the library says Danielle Miller, Program Manager
for WTBBL. "People were getting [digital players] who hadn't used the
library in forever. People were signing up who had never used the
library. Books were going out pretty much as soon as they came in the
door and people were willing to read things that they never would have
read before because they wanted to use the digital player." 

Volunteer Support Ensures Program Success
Although both libraries have a talented and devoted staff, they credit
much of their success to the ongoing commitment of their volunteers.
"It's really the volunteers that make everything we do possible,"
explains Miller. At the WTBBL, volunteers contribute more than 32,000
hours of their time every year-the equivalent of 16 full time employees.
They are the driving force behind the WTBBL's Evergreen Radio Station, a
special service of the library that provides 24 hour programming for

Volunteers read local and national newspaper articles, host talk shows
about local events, and conduct interviews with popular authors. The
programming is more than just entertainment, however. It also provides
practical information that would otherwise be difficult for the visually
impaired to access. "One of our most popular programs is called "Grocery
Cart", explains Miller. "All the supermarket circulars come out on
Tuesdays and the volunteer narrators go through and read what's for sale
and where it's for sale. It's a nice way for a lot of our people who
maybe get out only once a week or are on a fixed income. They can see,
'Oh cantaloupe is on sale at Safeway. Let's go there.'" 

KTBL relies heavily on volunteer support as well, particularly for the
narration and recording of their special collection of books about
Kentucky or by Kentucky authors. KTBL has had a wonderful record of
volunteer loyalty-many of their volunteers have been with the library
for 20 years or more. Penegor works hard to give back to the volunteers,
arranging trips to see how braille books are printed and inviting
special speakers to the yearly volunteer appreciation dinner. "This year
we're hoping to have some professional narrators-people who are paid to
record the talking books from the Library of Congress-come in and talk
to them so they can meet a superstar!" 

Using Communications, Outreach, and Partners to Respond to Fiscal
Both libraries work hard to get the word out about the services they
offer. Penegor hosts in training sessions for new Kentucky public
library directors to make sure they're aware of KTBL's services.
Recently, she enlisted the help of two of her patrons-an 88 year old
woman who uses talking books and a young reader of braille-to star in an
introductory YouTube video for new patrons. WTBBL works closely with
care facilities, retirement centers and the blinded veteran's center,
connecting with activity directors and giving presentations about the
library. Close relationships with patrons, other local libraries, and
institutions for the visually and physically impaired have helped KTBL
and WTBBL deal with ongoing budget cuts. 

In the past few years, KTBL has taken over library services for regional
talking book libraries which were forced to close their doors. Good
communication between the branches allowed for a smooth transition and
minimal disruption to patrons. "Even though the Louisville library
closed three years ago I'm still in occasional contact with the former
librarian," says Penegor. In Washington, other public libraries and
patrons have stepped in to help replace services the WTBBL can no longer
afford. "Some of our large print readers know that we can't afford to
buy these books any more so they often donate books that they have read
or money specifically for that purchase," says Miller. "We've been
working with public libraries in the area and getting donations.
Recently, a public library system donated 14 boxes of large print books
in great condition." 

Improving Quality of Life for Patrons
Talking book libraries have loyal patrons and that should come as no
surprise. Much of the patron base is elderly or retired --the average
patron at KTBL is a widowed woman in her eighties. As Penegor explains,
"Listening to a talking book is like staying in touch with the world-not
only learning things-but it's another human voice in an empty house."
"At the state library we provide a lot of great services," adds Kentucky
State Librarian Wayne Onkst, "but I can't imagine one that has more
impact than this one." 

IMLS remains committed to making accessibility and inclusion top
priorities for the agency and the libraries and museums it serves. Learn
more at
<> .

Click here <>  to find Talking Book
Library services in your community. 

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of
federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.
The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that
connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the
national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and
innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about
the Institute, please visit <> .