Bringing books to life
For 50 years, NH Talking Books has made thousands of titles accessible to the Blind and visually impaired
Rick Blair, 65, of Plaistow, is an engineer who designs computer parts that run machines. An avid reader, he predicts he’s downloaded up to 3,000 books since he moved to the state in 2000. He enjoys mysteries, science fiction, and the occasional nonfiction title.
Blair, who lives with his 4-year-old Seeing Eye dog, Delta, is extremely near-sighted and is able to consume his reading material through New Hampshire Talking Books, part of a national network of libraries for the blind and physically handicapped.
Born with visual challenges, Blair was first introduced to Talking Books in his home state of Wisconsin as a child. When he moved to New Hampshire 20 years ago, he quickly took advantage of the service, which offers audiobooks and the playback machines needed to listen to them.
Although Blair downloads most of his materials in a digital format from the library’s Braille and Audio Reading Download service (BARD) to his Victoria Reader Stream — a handheld device that looks like an old cell phone — patrons may also borrow audio recordings delivered right to their doors through the mail for free.
“Reading is so important. While the TV can entertain, there is still an aspect of reading that allows you to have an imagination,” Blair said. “I listen to books while I am vacuuming, doing the dishes. While I am doing any menial task, I can read a book. I might read three books in a weekend.”
In fact, the library has a collection of more than 50,000 titles of books and magazines that appeal to all ages and interests.
This year, Talking Books is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The program was initiated in 1970 for 525 blind and physically handicapped New Hampshire readers. Since then, it has served more than 2,000 people and lends more than 70,000 titles a year to patrons like Blair, who may have a visual impairment, a grasping problem, or an information-processing challenge, said Marilyn Stevenson, a regional librarian with New Hampshire Talking Books. The service not only ships audiobooks, it also mails Braille materials. Thanks to technology, patrons have even more options and greater flexibility when it comes to checking out books.
‘In the mid-2000s, the service began the transition for an analog cassette format to the new digital format,” Stevenson said. “On October 8, 2018, the New Hampshire Talking Book Library Services was one of the first regional libraries in the nation to adopt the new duplication on demand circulation system, which is not just a more convenient duplication system, but a ground work for an electronic internet-based service of the future.”
The duplication on demand system allows the library to add more than one title to a patron’s reading cartridge, and users only need to put one cartridge in their audio players to be able to listen to multiple books before returning their cartridges for replacement books, she said.
“This is especially convenient for residents of nursing homes and day care centers who find it easier to maintain one cartridge instead of multiple books,” Stevenson said.
For those patrons who use smartphones or tablets, the BARD service allows them to download materials from Talking Books at any time. This way, borrowers don’t have to wait for books to come to them through the mail or worry about returning materials by their due dates. Those who download titles from BARD first must download the BARD app onto their own smartphones or tablets to identify and download materials.
Blair said BARD has made downloading books so much easier. He’s able to search for titles on his reader by categories or series, he said. He can also download titles and save them to read for later.
Stevenson has worked at the New Hampshire Talking Library for almost 10 years and continues to see the value the service brings to visually impaired patrons throughout the state and country.
“I was very glad we have been able to stay operational during the COVID pandemic and continue our services,” she said. “Many of our patrons live in nursing homes, group homes, or adult living facilities, and books are very important to them. We receive positive feedback all of the time.”
How to access NH Talking Books
Part of the New Hampshire State Library, Talking Books is located in the Dolloff Building in the Governor Gallen business complex on Pleasant Street in Concord, and is open by appointment from Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Marilyn Stevenson, a librarian with Talking Books. Before patrons are able to take out or download materials, they must first apply for eligibility by filling out an application. The following people are eligible for services:
- Those who have visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose widest diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees.
- Those whose visual impairment with correction, is certified by a competent authority as preventing the reading of regular printed material.
- Those certified by a competent authority as unable to read or unable to use regular printed material because of physical limitations.
- Those certified by a competent authority as having a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent reading regular printed material in a conventional manner.
Those interested in Talking Books for themselves or a loved one may call 271-3429, or go to https://www.nh.gov/nhsl/talking_books.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a former journalist and marketing director who now regularly writes for higher education and technology organizations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A longtime contributor to ParentingNH magazine, Krysten won three awards — gold, silver and bronze — for writing from the Parenting Media Association in 2020.