Blind World Magazine

Recording library plans to go digital.

January 06, 2006.
Odessa American - Odessa,TX,USA.

Midland Sally Maddox articulately describes the dining experiences at restaurants across Texas. Headphones curve over her short blond hair and she speaks into a microphone from her tiny gray booth.

Karen Leascher listens from a desk outside the booth, occasionally stopping Maddox to re-record a mistake from the January 2006 "Texas Monthly" reading.

Maddox and Leascher work on recordings at the Recording Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Midland. About 20 volunteers come on weekday mornings to record reading materials for the library's 18,000 clients who cannot see words on a page or are unable to hold a book.

Pat Woodfin, director, said 2006 will be a transitional year for the library that has been putting books on tape since 1963. The library is looking to change its reel-to-reel format to digital recording and storage by 2007. The new format will allow the library better access to recordings and more flexibility in recording sessions.

During the spring or summer, the name of the library will change to the Recording Library of West Texas, Woodfin said. She hopes the new name will include the large number of people with macular degeneration or other impairments such as cerebral palsy or even dyslexia who are not blind.

The library is also planning a School Outreach Program to put 100 books "every child should read" onto cassettes or CDs for area schools beginning in 2006.

The recording library participates in the Texas Talking Book Program, which allows clients with disabilities to receive audio tapes via mail. The Midland recording studio sends recordings to the Texas State Library, which in turn sends the tapes to clients throughout the state.

The West Texas library has produced more than half of the Texas books that the state library distributes, Woodfin said. Although the library works with the state, it receives no state funding. It is funded completely by the private sector, Woodfin said.

The library records mostly "Texana," books by regional authors or about the region. The Library of Congress records nationally well-known books, Woodfin said.

Clients may make special requests for Sunday school lessons, business manuals or other materials to be read. The library records the items free of charge, Woodfin said.

The library has recorded materials in Spanish, but currently has no Spanish-speaking volunteers, Woodfin said.

The recordings allow the visually impaired or handicapped clients to enjoy a luxury they might not otherwise be able to have.

"Most of our clients don't have computers, they don't have the transportation or the (financial means)," Woodfin said, to purchase audio tapes.

There are approximately 3,466 visually impaired people in Ector County and 3,334 in Midland County, Woodfin said. About 90 to 95 percent of the library 's clients are 55 or older, she said.

"We don't feed the hungry here, but the needs that we address are loneliness and despair," Woodfin said. "We give (clients) a sense of worth."

Midlander Jack Huff is one of the volunteers who invests several hours each week to ensure that clients have new listening material.

Huff read, "Welcome to Fred," by Texas author Brad Whittington on Wednesday morning while Jeanne Guichard monitored the reading.

Huff's deep, even voice has been on the library's recordings for 20 years. The work is very fulfilling, he said.

"I had some time on my hands," Huff said. "I wanted to do some kind of civic work. Once you're down here, it gets in your blood - you want to come."

Guichard has been volunteering at the library for 18 years.

"It's fun. We get so much more out of it than we put in," Guichard said.

Maddox said the volunteer work is intellectually challenging. As a retired librarian, Maddox likes the task of verbally transmitting a story from the page.

"If a person can do it, they're totally hooked," Maddox said.

Not every voice can record, Woodfin said. Some voices are too high-pitched or are unpleasant for the ears. Strong dialects do not make for good recordings, she said.

A person must also be able to convincingly portray characters through verbal expression.

"You try to be aware the whole time that this person can't see what you see," Guichard said of her listeners. "It's only what you say that gets across to them." At a glance

>> Recording Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Inc. records more than half of the audio books issued to the blind or disabled by the state of Texas.

>> The library is funded solely by donations from the private sector. Library personnel are fund-raising in order to digitize the reel-to-reel recording format and to launch a School Outreach Program.

>> Located in Midland at 2012 W. Cuthbert Ave., 79701. Call 682-2731.

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