Page 26


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Medical Journal 2011


Morning Sentinel


State Library’s outreach program offers hope, education to the visually impaired BY NANCY MCGINNIS Correspondent

AUGUSTA – Many residents of central Maine may be familiar with the Maine State Library. A short stroll from the Capitol, it is housed in the same building with the Maine State Museum and Archives. As visitors enter from the street level, they get a glimpse of the stacks, periodicals, reference desk and seating area that are all visible directly below, through the glass-walled atrium. But many are unaware that there are three more “invisible” library collections another floor down. This is the home of the Maine State Library Outreach Services, which includes Books by Mail, Large Print, and Talking Books. These programs, administered by the Maine State Library, are funded by the federal Library Services and Technology Act through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Books by Mail was established as a successor to the Bookmobile service, which succumbed to budget cuts in the early 1990s. This program makes library resources available on request to Maine citizens who do not have a hometown library. For qualified homebound patrons, shipping and return postage costs for these materials are paid. Reading for recreation or education is something many people do every day, but rarely stop to think about. According to experts, reading helps people expand their horizons, explore ideas, develop new skills, even escape from cabin fever with a laugh or an armchair adventure. But people who are temporarily or permanently unable to see — or even to hold a book or magazine — can miss out on all this reading enjoyment. Large Print and Talking Books are two possible ways this group can continue to enjoy and learn. Large Print books are printed in large text format at a magnification for someone who cannot read standard-sized print. The library lends large-print books, mailed directly, at no charge, to individuals

Nancy McGinnis photos

In the Outreach Services mailroom on the lower level of the Maine State Library, Librarian Jim Roy shows one of thousands of sturdy cases containing a “book” in digital format, ready to be sent out to a waiting listener.

who are visually impaired; it also offers rotating collections of large print books to libraries that serve the visually impaired. The Maine State Library Outreach Program has a large and ever-growing collection of Talking Books. This federal initiative, a free national library program of Braille and recorded materials for blind and physically handicapped persons, is administered by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress. The program was launched in 1931 by an Act of Congress as a service to WWI veterans with combat-related

disabilities, according to Librarian Christopher Boynton, Director of Outreach Service at the Maine State Library. The program was expanded in 1952 with items for children, in 1962 with musical scores and other materials, and again in 1966, to address the needs of individuals with other physical impairments that prevented the reading of regular print. The earliest Talking Books were records. At first glance, they were similar to LPs but with raised Braille dots as well as printed labels; they were designed to be listened to on an exclusive player at 8

rpm (revolutions per minute.) Eventually, most of these were replaced by specialized analog audio cassettes and a proprietary audio tape player. Today, sturdy digital cartridges that store the contents of a book on an internal flash memory card can be listened to on an even smaller, lighter, more user-friendly digital machine. This latest incarnation of playback equipment is a battery and-or AC-powered, two- pound, portable device with a carry handle. Large, color-coded buttons are designed to be high contrast and, when activated, an audible message tells the listener what action has been taken — such as power on, volume up, or skip ahead. Because Talking Books materials are being used to serve the disabled, they are exempted from standard copyright law, and can be copied for this purpose as needed. Currently, about 80 percent of Mainers who benefit from outreach services for the visually-impaired and handicapped individuals are elderly, Boynton said. He said the average user is just over 70 years of age. Boynton said. 90 percent of users have physical handicaps, and 10 percent have identifiable, medically-caused learning disabilities. Many fit both categories. Some, he said, became unable to read by conventional means earlier in life, or were born with disabilities. Books in large-print format and audio talking books allow more people of any age to stay engaged and informed. In general, Large Print materials are circulated through local libraries, while the Talking Books program is set up on an individual basis with each interested user who meets the guidelines. Once accepted, the patron receives the necessary playback equipment on long-term loan, along with books on demand. Through the International Union Catalog available on the Internet, every network library has access to the entire National Library Service book collection and to the resources of cooperating agencies. Recently, direct download became More on LIBRARY, Page 28