July 25, 2005.
Patrons of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) read an average of seven times as many books per year than the rest of Americans.
"The sighted population reads about five books per year -- and that may be generous -- but in our program, it's up over 35 books a year," said Michael Moody, director of NLS.
Most of the patrons of NLS are blind and participate in the audiobook program, listening to their favorite books read unabridged by professional narrators.
About 800,000 people participate in the program, which has branches in every state except Wyoming. Each year, NLS records about 2,000 different titles, including everything from new fiction and nonfiction to classic literature. About 2 million copies of each title are produced so that patrons across the U.S. can have access to the books at no charge.
The annual number of books produced in Braille is only 500. Braille, Mr. Moody said, is becoming a lost language as fewer and fewer people learn or use it, mostly because many of those who are blind become so later in life when learning Braille can be difficult.
The blind or seriously handicapped can order NLS books over the phone and have them shipped to them. Most of the program's users are over the age of 60.
In the District, NLS has about 1,250 different "service points" -- either individual readers or groups of people who receive audiobooks from the program, said Philip Wong-Cross, director of the NLS's D.C. division. About 6,000 of the program's users nationwide are over the age of 100. Five of those live in the District, Mr. Wong-Cross said.
Berta Rose, 103, is one of the program's users in Northwest. Her daughter, Irene Karulix, 86, who lives with and cares for her mom, orders her about 30 audiobooks every two weeks.
"She likes the criminal novels -- the Agatha Christie kind -- and then, mostly, she likes historical documentaries," Mrs. Karulix said. "She sits and listens. I don't know how much she hears, but at least she listens to them."
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