Newszap Delaware, USA.
Friday, March 24, 2006.
By Gwen Guerke, Delaware State News.
DOVER - In 1931, "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the official national anthem and a postage stamp cost 2 cents.
That same year, the Library of Congress received $100,000 to start a lending library for blind adults.
The service, administered in Delaware through the Division of Libraries, observes 75 years of history nationally this year; the First State became part of the federal system in 1971.
While books on tape are now readily available in bookstores and public libraries, that technology was not available when the Library for the Blind was established.
Though the technology today is still on cassette tapes that contain six hours of listening, rather than electronic discs, those who use the service find it beneficial and user-friendly, says state librarian Annie Norman.
The collection is cataloged and housed on movable shelving at the back of the state library, in Dover's Edgehill Shopping Center on U.S. 13.
Patrons, who are also issued a bulky yellow tape player to listen to the audio books, receive and return them in prepaid mailers.
Ms. Norman acknowledges the tape-and-player technology is outmoded, but says the patrons have not complained.
In fact, programs that offered downloadable audio books did not get much participation from the patrons who use the Library for the Blind.
In 1931, when the service started, books were recorded on records and Braille had not yet been standardized, according to the Library of Congress Web site.
Mrs. Norman, who came to the state library as the Library for the Blind administrator in 1985, says she has lobbied for the library to be more inclusive, to be housed within local lending libraries.
In the near future, Mrs. Norman said technology will be upgraded on flash memory cards, and the new computerized system will allow customers to track their reading history, similar to the way Netflix tracks a viewer's movie rental history.
The Library for the Blind's mission expanded in 1966 to include more than visually impaired people.
People who are physically unable to hold a book are also eligible to use the services.
The state library simply provides storage space and distribution for customers.
The Library of Congress provides more than 60,000 titles, including books for children and young adults, as well as reference books.
John Phillos, administrative librarian, says the collection is also updated with about 1,700 new titles each year, but that is only a small percentage of the 35,000 popular titles published annually.
Delaware has about 1,200 active patrons, with about 750 using the service each month.
Mr. Phillos says 250 audio books leave the library each day.
"We are very efficient," he said.
In addition to the audio books, the Library for the Blind offers specialized computers for visually handicapped patrons who visit the Dover site.
The computers scan and magnify text, with zooming capabilities and audio assistance for typing and reading.
Mr. Phillos has been working with local public library staffs to offer the computer services.
"We're trying to get out into the public," he said.
In addition to installing hardware, state librarians have held technical and sensitivity training for local library personnel.
"It's not just equipment," Mrs. Norman said.
"We also have to get the staffs trained to accommodate people with disabilities. There are so many more opportunities with (Americans with Disabilities Act) technology, and I think patrons will be happy with the convenience.
"We need to get beyond the little green boxes," she said, referring to the audio casettes.
Gwen Guerke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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