Blind World Magazine

Tour reveals process behind talking books.

The Republican (Massachusetts).
Wednesday, February 22, 2006.

I'm an avid user of the talking book library, and I've always wondered where those green cassette cases went after I dropped them off in the mailbox. In my mind I pictured a large warehouse containing millions of talking book tapes.

Recently I was invited to take a tour of the Perkins Talking Book Library housed at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.

I first met with Judi Cannon, the Braille services specialist who is legally blind. Cannon receives assistance from her sight guide dog Karma, a beautiful yellow Labrador retriever.

It is Cannon's job to translate written documents into Braille. She translates Perkins documents such as fliers about school programs. All school activities documents - such as play programs - are put into Braille for all the students to use.

The document is first sent in an e-mail to Cannon as a Microsoft Word file attachment. Cannon uses a screen reader called JAWS to have the computer "speak" the words of the document to her. She also uses a refreshable Braille keyboard display that shows what the document will look like when printed in Braille.

She then sends the document to a Braille embosser-printer that prints the page in Braille in 20 seconds.

Cannon also uses a closed circuit TV magnifier that will magnify documents and display them on a screen similar to a computer monitor.

I also met with Kim Charlson, supervisor of the library, who is also blind. She uses a German shepherd guide dog named Jubilee.

The library staffs about 25 people.

The first room we entered was filled from wall to wall with motorized shelves of green cassette tapes. Currently there are 78,000 multiple copies of library material.

I saw people checking the tapes to be sure they were rewound.

I then visited the tape duplication center where an employee showed me how copies of master tapes are made at the rate of 19 copies in three minutes. They also have a digital machine that copies CDs to cassettes.

The library also has a recording studio where there are four soundproof booths set up where an individual reads into a microphone and the words are displayed on a computer outside, where somebody is proofreading the dialogue. Some of the books that are recorded are on local topics such as the Boston Red Sox.

The last area I visited was the circulation desk, where a librarian assists people with checking books out for people who prefer to walk in or for students of the Perkins School. The area houses the newest releases in cassettes, large print books and Braille books.

After this tour, my overwhelming curiosity was quenched about where the green cassette tapes go after being returned. Carrie Barrepski, a native of Livonia, Mich., lives in Western Massachusetts. You can learn more about Carrie at her Web site,

She can be reached at

End of article.

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