Editor’s Note: This story is the result of a class project involving interviews conducted by the student journalists of the EPIC News Network. Program co-director Phil Cross is a volunteer narrator for the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A handful of Oklahomans are helping people all over the world who cannot see experience the joy of reading.
Their efforts, coordinated by a small staff and a dedicated group of volunteers, now have an international impact. The group’s audio recording efforts help lblind, visually impaired and those with other disabilities that impact their ability to read.
Oklahoma’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped got its start more than 80 years ago. The state formed the service in 1933, just two years after the United States Congress created the National Library Service.
“Members of Congress recognized there was a need that the blind and visually impaired people didn’t have the same access to reading materials as sighted people did,” Brian King, the public information officer at the OLBPH, said.
Every state but one has a regional library dedicated to providing materials to the blind or physically handicapped, King said. “We are a library just like your community library is,” he said.
The library’s earliest collections included Braille books, large print materials and even phonograph records that allowed patrons to listen to readers narrate books. In the early 2000s, Oklahoma made an investment in the future with the addition of a digital recording studio.
“Once I started working there, I loved it so much that I didn’t want to leave,” Jill Streck said. Streck is the director of the OLBPH recording studio. She began working there in college. “It is incredibly gratifying [work],” she said. “We get letters or cards in the mail frequently from patrons who, or their family members, who express how important having books has been to their lives.”
Streck oversees the team of volunteer narrators and editors who help produce talking books and magazines for the library’s 5,000 patrons.
Each recording is edited by either volunteers or staff. It is then sent to a regional quality control specialist who listens for everything from pronunciation to ambient noise levels. The goal is to avoid distractions that would take away from the text.
“We’re very proud of that,” Kevin Treese, the director of the OLBPH, said. While other state libraries have recording studios, few are able to produce a quality that competes with private companies contracted to add to the Library of Congress system.
Those productions are now available to an international audience. The recently enacted Marrakesh Treaty opened up international copyright law, allowing countries to share collections created for the blind or otherwise print disabled.
“I love that other people can be empowered to be able to use this and people can reconnect with their love of reading,” Alex Taussig said. Taussig, who suffers from low vision, works at the OLBPH and while she can still read materials that are printed in the traditional method, it is easier for her to use some of the library’s more accessible formats.
Taussig said the library’s instructional materials helped her complete school. The Accessible Instructional Materials Center provides large print, Braille or other forms of accessible textbooks to students in Oklahoma.
“Any student in Oklahoma with vision problems gets their books from the AIM Center,” she said.
The library’s goal is to continue to advance the technological capabilities. In a few years’ time, Treese hopes patrons will access library materials via at-home smart devices. For now, they still deliver audio books and magazines via a special cartridge and player that is sent through the mail.
The library relies on volunteers. Narrators donate their time to come into the recording studio to record books or magazine articles. Narrators go through an audition process. Streck said the key to being a good narrator is making sure the patron remembers the story, not the narrator.
“You don’t want to be distracted by the narration you just want to hear the story,” she said.
If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, visit their website by clicking here.