I’m a retired clinical psychologist, blind from birth. When I was growing up in the 1950’s in Kalamazoo, MI, the librarian at the Michigan library for the blind was my hero. He sent me books in Braille and on records from the Library of Congress through the mail. When those big black boxes of Braille books arrived on the front porch, my anticipation was just about as great as it was before Christmas. I knew I would soon be losing myself in a book about somebody else’s world. One of my early Braille favorites was Brighty of the Grand Canyon. I can still remember lying and listening to of someone reading Little Women on records. Then there was the Kalamazoo Public Library which got the first edition of the World Book Encyclopedia ever put in Braille, the 1959 edition. To be able to read about any subject under the sun ignited my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to read straight through it, but only got as far as the “C”volumes. I attended a teen book discussion group there, but none of the books were on tape or in Braille, so I just listened.
Fast forward through college, graduate school and a thirty year career as a clinical psychologist. If I was lucky, some of the professional books and texts I needed were available from the library of Recordings for the Blind. Public libraries provided musical recordings and pleasure reading books on tape. The branch libraries of the Library of Congress in each state still provided books on tape and in Braille sent through the mail The time between publication in print and publication on tape or in Braille shortened. I might be reading last fall’s best seller in the spring instead of a couple of years later.
In addition to receiving books from branches of the Library of Congress, I also regularly receive books from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, Xavier Society for the Blind (Catholic lending library), and Bookshare (downloadable versions of books for print handicapped people). Now that I have a computer that talks, I can go online to scroll through lists of new books at the public library and pick what I’d like delivered by the Home Delivery service. Every three weeks a volunteer brings two bags of CDs, books on tape and print books to my house. We chat briefly and she leaves with the bags full of the 21 items she’s taking back.
It goes deeper than using several libraries and several delivery methods to get me the information I need to live a full life. It involves librarians who know sources of information and can make recommendations of good books. When I was young there weren’t many books about blind people other than Helen Keller and Louis Braille. Now the American Library Association gives three awards per year to authors or illustrators of children’s books about the disability experience. When children go into the youth area of their libraries now, librarians will be able to recommend books to fit their situations, whether they are a child with a learning disability who can read My Thirteenth Winter or a blind child with a sighted parent who can read Looking out for Sarah printed both in print and Braille they’ll know that they’re not alone. Librarians are the ones who make the magical connections so the person gets the information they need in a format they can use.
When I helped to start an ecumenical book discussion group at my church this year, I knew that librarians and libraries would make it possible for me to access the books we chose to discuss so I wouldn’t just sit on the sidelines and listen to others discussing books I couldn’t get like it was forty years ago. Technology has changed a lot to make that possible. But the role of libraries and librarians in enabling my full participation in the world as a person who is blind have remained essential.