For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
January 26, 2006 - Talking Books Save Lives
For those of us who do a lot of reading, it's hard to imagine a life without books. But sometimes, life surprises us. We sustain a sickness or an injury, and suddenly, we have trouble with our vision.
That trouble may be temporary or permanent: a cataract, or macular degeneration. A detached retina. Blurred vision. Congenital blindness. Or simply the advance of age.
Some of my friends have faced these issues, bravely, right up to the moment when they realize they won't be able to read anymore. Panic!
Sound of the cavalry, with trumpets: in rides the Talking Book Library.
A federal program, with a presence in every state, Colorado's Talking Book Library is an absolutely free program to Coloradans of all ages "who are unable to read standard print material due to visual, physical or learning disabilities whether permanent or temporary."
It works like this: first, you determine if you are eligible. It's not hard. You have to satisfy one of the following requirements:
* you are legally blind;
* your vision in the better eye is 20/200 or less with corrective lenses or your widest diameter of visual field is no greater than 20 degrees;
* you cannot see well enough or focus long enough to read standard print, though you wear glasses to correct your vision;
* you are unable to handle print books or turn pages because of a physical disability. (Maybe you've broken both arms, or have severe arthritis, or burns, or Parkinson's Disease, for instance.)
* you are certified by a medical doctor as having a reading disability, due to an organic dysfunction, that is severe enough to prevent you from reading in the usual manner.
Again, the disability may be permanent or temporary.
Even institutions may qualify, providing that at least one individual using your facility must be eligible for Talking Book Library service and registered at this time.
Second, you fill out an application. You, or a friend, can find one online at http://www.cde.state.co.us/ctbl/tbservices.htm. Alternatively, you can email them at email@example.com.
Or you can call the good people at the Talking Book Library at 303-727-9277. They are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Third, you will now be eligible for the Talking Book Library's services. In brief, that means you can get recorded, Braille, and large-print books and magazines as well as a small collection of descriptive videos. The program pays postage both ways for these items.
You also get free players for the recorded books. Talking Book Library books and magazines are recorded at a special speed, slower than commercial recording, and require special playback equipment. If the equipment you are using needs service or repair, return it to the library and replacement equipment will be sent to you free of charge.
How do you find out about what's available? You get a bimonthly magazine that tells you about newly-released titles, as well as other, related, library services. Or, again, if you have a friend with Internet access, or you have software that allows you to read what's on a computer screen, see http://ctbl.cde.state.co.us/klasweb/. The whole collection of the library is searchable.
Some special collections are available, including locally recorded books (from the Colorado Collection), and Descriptive Videos, which are popular movies in which the action is described.
The program is simple to use: set up a profile, order materials, receive them by mail, and stick them back out in the mailbox when you're done. Again, all of this is free.
Of course, your local library also has lots of large print materials, as well as books on tape, CD, or even downloadable mp3s. You may already have the equipment you need for those. Technology marches on.
But the Talking Book Library serves many people, and serves them well, with an emphasis on convenience. It removes the barrier between you and a book. And that's a good thing.