July 05, 2005.
This summer, when Americans catch up on their favorite reading, they will also be enjoying a beloved American pastime that research shows is waning. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans of every age are consistently reading less. The study revealed an overall decline of 10 percent in literary reading between 1982 and 2002, totaling an overall loss of 20 million readers. Conversely, participants in the Talking Book program, a free library service provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, read more than the general population by a significant amount. The average NLS patron, an individual with a visual or physical impairment, reads seven times more than most sighted readers, or approximately 35 books a year.
These numbers not only highlight the braille and audiobook appetites of NLS patrons, but also speak to the ease in obtaining ample reading material through the Talking Book program. "NLS patrons are extremely avid readers," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "NLS is dedicated to fulfilling their reading needs with the highest-quality collection so they can remain engaged in literature and connected to the world around them."
While NLS patrons have higher book consumption rates, their literary tastes do not differ from those of sighted readers, according to Jim Herndon, head of the NLS Collection Development Section. NLS librarians strive to build a well-rounded collection that meets readers' diverse informational and recreational needs. "Selecting titles for the collection is a rigorous process. NLS librarians consult book reviews and bestseller lists, monitor publishing trends, and assess patron requests before choosing titles," says Herndon. "Titles are selected based on such criteria as literary merit and popularity."
With more than 400,000 titles, the Talking Book catalog is wide-ranging. Among its unabridged offerings are bestsellers, classics, biographies, romances, mysteries, and westerns. Patrons particularly favor top sellers like Nicholas Sparks's True Believer, Danielle Steele's Impossible, and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.
NLS libraries offer something for every bookworm, from kids to seniors. Summer reading programs and book clubs nationwide are designed to engage and reward readers. "Superheroes-Powered by Books," a program hosted by one network library, rewards blind and physically handicapped children who use their reading powers to fight summer boredom. Kids can report on the audio or braille books they have read in return for a range of superhero-themed prizes -- from masks to action figures. Additional reader appreciation programs include the 102 Talking Book Club, which honors centenarians for their lifelong devotion to reading.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, administers the Talking Book program, a free library service available to eligible individuals of any age living in the U.S. or American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or physical handicap makes reading a standard printed page difficult. Through its national network of regional libraries, NLS mails books and magazines on cassette and in braille, as well as audio equipment, directly to enrollees at no cost. Further information on eligibility requirements and enrollment procedures for the program is available at http://www.loc.gov/nls or 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323). Library of Congress
Web site: http://www.loc.gov/nls.
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