Yesterday I visited the North Carolina Library for the Blind and the Physically Handicapped. I went on the trip with low expectations – I didn’t expect it to be very well funded, so I was prepared for poor technology, little staff, and outdated furnishings. As we walked up to the building, I was disappointed that the building was a sad brick, almost completely windowless, and had very little parking. But very quickly, I was incredibly surprised by the technology and services provided by the library.
It turns out, that the library isn’t as warm and inviting as I had hoped because patrons don’t actually visit it. The physical space is just a set of offices, and a storehouse. The offices provide spaces for readers’ advisors, production of audio recordings, the printing of Braille texts, and other administrative functions. Instead of patrons coming to the library, they register for the service and materials are mailed directly to their homes. The library provides books in Braille, large print, and audio form. The audio books used to be provided via cassette tapes, but recently, the library has switched to digital formats, by loading digital forms onto flash drives. Each person registered for the service is loaned a digital player. The flash drives are encased in a rectangular piece of plastic, making them easier to hold and put into the digital player. They also have a hole in the end to make them even easier for physically handicapped people to hold them with just a finger.
Another interesting fact I learned was that the library was exempt from copyright restrictions. The library can make copies, printed Braille, large print, or audio, as long as the copies are going to their registered patrons. Additionally, the NC library has an extensive interlibrary loan system with similar institutions around the state. One of their services involves creating audio recordings of local magazines, which are all contributed to a national registry for all the libraries to use.
I was pleasantly surprised with the technology available for this service, but what really touched me, were the print/Braille children’s books. The library held children’s books that have both text and Braille. They can be used by blind parents to read to their children, or by sighted parents teaching their blind children Braille. I had no idea such products existed, and had not thought of services for blind children, or children with blind parents.