July 17, 2005.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, FL.
This week, Pat Mistretta discusses the Palm Beach County Library System's "Talking Books" service at the Library Annex in Lake Worth, which provides books and magazines for patrons who cannot use standard printed materials. Mistretta, a former proofreader, has worked with the library system for 32 years and recently began her 25th year as a Talking Books librarian.
Q. Describe the Talking Books library.
A. Right now, I have five people on staff and seven volunteers. We're one of the highest-circulated libraries in the state. Talking Books librarians are more advocates for the disabled than librarians. Most of us have been in our positions for more than 20 years. There are 14 talking books libraries in Florida and we have about 3,200 patrons who are legally blind, physically impaired or can't hold a book, or physically disabled. For example, sometimes we have a heart patient or someone who has no upper mobility or strength. Most are over 65. Our youngest patron is 5 years old. We did have someone who was 106.
We circulate about 130,000 books every year and that's amazing, if you think that there are about 3,000 people reading so many books. Our books are recorded on four-track cassettes so you can't play them in your home stereo. The Library of Congress provides our special playback equipment. We also have descriptive videos, which are videos that have an audio enhancement that describes wardrobe and settings for people who are visually impaired. Since we got them in May, we're sending out 300 to 400 a month. People can check them out for a week and they just love them. We have everything from Independence Day to Forrest Gump, The Lion King and Finding Nemo.
Q. What other services does the library provide?
A. We have a computer lab that uses talking software designed specifically for people who are visually impaired. It is speech-activated software. We can book patrons in 90-minute sessions.
Q. What books do you recommend for patrons who want to learn more about talking books?
A. Well, I guess I'd recommend books about Helen Keller or books about Seeing Eye dogs. Follow The Leader is a children's book about Seeing Eye dogs. We also have all five Harry Potter books and the sixth one is being recorded. It will be out in the fall. Another good service is Recordings for the Blind that just opened at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. They record textbooks for undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
Q. What sort of newer technologies are used to provide talking books?
A. We'll probably pass the CD phase and go [fully] digital, using memory cards like the ones they have in digital cameras, but we'll have to provide a player that's user-friendly. Eighty-five percent of our clients get our books through the mail. We have catalogs that are recorded in Braille or large print. The device will have to be along the lines of an MP3 player and at least three-by-five inches.
Q. What do you like to read?
A. I like a lot of biographies. I enjoyed the Clinton book. I just finished it. My favorite book is [Kurt Vonnegut's] God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It's a great satirical book. I'm working on a book myself and if my husband gives me a laptop, I can finish it.
Q. What's a highlight of your job?
A. The clients and getting to know people. We have a volunteer whom I've known for more than 20 years. We get to know the patrons and have a rapport with them. You make more of an impact in people's lives here.
End of article.
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