OKLAHOMA CITY –Twenty-six thousand audio books, textbooks and periodicals are currently available for loan to patrons of the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
The books and digital playback equipment are free to Oklahomans who are blind or visually impaired and those with reading disabilities or physical limitations that make it difficult to use standard print.
Last year, staff served 4,884 patrons distributing an average 3,825 books to them each week.
The Library for the Blind is operated by Visual Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Since 1933, Oklahoma’s Library has been affiliated with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which is part of the Library of Congress.
Four librarians are on staff as reader advisors to answer patrons’ questions and fill their requests for specific books. More than 90 percent of communications are over the phone.
Few patrons come to the Library in person due to age or disability or perhaps because library services are delivered so efficiently by mail order and phone.
Nearly half of the Library patrons receive one to four books by mail per month, while 12.3 percent get 15 or more, according to a 2017 client satisfaction survey by DRS.
Among those surveyed, 98.4 percent found Library employees were helpful while 99.2 percent reported they were treated by them with respect.
Many Oklahomans who are eligible for free services, however, simply do not know that the library exists.
“We’re out to change that,” Library Director Kevin Treese said.
He and Public Information Officer Brian King are traveling the state, speaking to seniors, public librarians, veterans, organizations for people with vision loss. They are frequent participants at information fairs, nursing homes and tribal events.
“We want to make people who qualify for the program aware of what we do and also reach out to people who know someone who will qualify,” Treese said. “There is no fee for the books. In fact, you don’t even have to pay the postage to return them to us.”
In addition to more than 26,000 audio book titles on Library shelves, tech savvy patrons have access to an additional 50,000 titles when they download books from BARD (Braille Audio Reading Downloads) to their computers, smartphones, other devices or blank cartridges that work in the Library’s players.
Braille readers can use BARD to download nearly 12,769 books for use with electronic braille devices that attach to their computers.
“A lot of new books that come out are download only, so Karl Williams on our staff downloads audio files based on recommendations from our librarians and patron requests,” Treese said. “We have machines capable of downloading 21 books at a time in about ten or 15 seconds.”
Electronic Technician Karl Williams, who has a visual disability, has been employed at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind since 1972. He has also been a patron for 45 years.
Born in Jamaica, Williams came to the U.S. to attend college at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
When he started work at the Library, staff distributed books on phonograph records played at 16 or 33 1/3 revolutions per minutes (RPM).
“Right after that, the cassette players came in, “Williams said. “That was the medium until about five years ago when cassettes were replaced with digital cartridges. In reality, what we’re using is USB drives encapsulated in the cart (cartridge) in a plastic container, which is easier to transport.”
“The cartridges hold about three gigabytes of recorded material, roughly enough for 20 books,” he said.
After consultation with state libraries, National Library Service designed the new cartridges to look like old, familiar cassettes with a hole that make them easier for patrons to grasp.
“The digital audio is a lot cleaner, no background noise or anything like that…” Williams said. “Even when we transfer the old analog recordings over to digital, they are a lot cleaner than the original.”
Oklahoma Library for the Blind is one of the few libraries in the National Library Service network with their own professional digital recording studio capable of producing high quality recordings accepted by National Library Service for national distribution.
For example, Library studio staff produce two monthly magazines published in Oklahoma, “Cowboys and Indians” and “Oklahoma Today,” which are available to library patrons nationwide.
“We’re on par with what they have at the National Library Service in Washington, D.C.,” Treese explained. “If an announcer recording a book for us in the booth skips a word, there is a producer-director on the other side of the glass reading right along with them to stop somebody and correct them.
“Jill Streck and other staff in our recording studio use software that shows the digital audio from recordings on a computer screen for editing, so they can correct sound that may be too loud, amp up something that is not loud enough or cut and replace a segment that wasn’t originally read the way it needed to be read.”
In addition to the audio book program. the Library for the Blind staff provide a range of other services.
The Library’s Accessible Instructional Materials Center provides textbooks and other instructional materials in Braille and other accessible formats for students with visual impairments in kindergarten through grade 12, as long as funds are available to meet the requests.
The Oklahoma Telephone Reader provides general interest newspaper articles and magazines for patrons to access from their home telephones.
Oklahomans for Special Library Services (OSLS) is an active organization which supports the work of the library.
To sign up for audio books or get more information about Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, phone 405-521-3514 or 1-800-523-0288 toll free or visit www.olbph.org. Applications for library services are available on the website.