Future Reflections        Convention Report 2011

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Organized Pandemonium: The 2011 Braille Book Fair/Flea Market

by Barbara Cheadle

UPS volunteers stand before a mountain of boxes full of Braille books.From the Editor: As many readers know, Barbara Cheadle was the founder and longtime president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. She established Future Reflections magazine and served as its editor for twenty-eight years. Since her retirement in May 2009 she has embarked upon a new career as a children's librarian. However, she still has a deep commitment to the NFB and the future of blind children, and she has discovered a new role at convention as coordinator of the Braille Book Fair, formerly known as the Braille Book Flea Market.

Boy intently reads the cover of a Braille bookIt's high noon, Tuesday, July 5th, and I'm standing in the doorway of a large, empty hotel ballroom, contemplating my future (my future for the next eight hours, anyway). When I say that the room is empty, I mean it's empty of people. It is ringed with twenty-plus eight-foot tables, each standing about three feet from the wall. There are no chairs. In the middle of the room, two more eight-foot tables stand parallel to each other, about four feet apart. Stacked around and between the center tables are over two hundred tape-sealed boxes, and fifty more will be delivered later in the afternoon. Some of the boxes are just big enough to hold a couple of print/Braille storybooks. Others are huge and hold dozens of Braille volumes. The stillness of the room is broken only by the muffled sounds of hotel workers setting up an adjoining conference room and the gentle whoosh of the air conditioner kicking on.

In exactly one hour, so I've been warned, the quiet of this room will erupt into organized pandemonium. Volunteers will attack the sealed boxes with scissors and box cutters. They will begin the frenzied four-hour process of unpacking, sorting, organizing, and getting the books out on the tables and ready for the Braille-hungry hordes that will descend on the room promptly at 5:00 p.m.

Anna Catherine Walker of Pennsylvania hugs an armload of booksThe event was the annual Braille Book Fair (formerly called the Braille Flea Market). Although I wrote the UPS grant that established the event nine years ago under the sponsorship of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), this was the first time I personally coordinated every detail. It was a daunting task, but fortunately I did not have to reinvent the wheel. Peggy Chong, who managed the event for the past five years, passed on to me her blueprint for bringing organization out of chaos. I'm glad to report that her method worked. The 2011 Braille Book Fair was a huge success.

The goal of the Braille Book Fair is simple: to get more Braille books into the hands of blind children and youth. We solicit donations of used and new Braille books, and we give the books away free of charge at this event during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The Braille Book Fair/Flea Market is in a class by itself. Like a flea market, it offers mostly used goods; like a book fair, it's all about books. There is an atmosphere of crowded, bustling excitement as kids and adults eagerly browse, looking for gems and treasures, or just for a good read. This event differs from flea markets and fairs, however, because all of these books are free for the taking, and there are no limits on how many you can take. The NOPBC does collect donations to help defray the costs--a little over six hundred dollars was collected this year--but no one is charged a penny for any of the books.

Barbara Cheadle and a UPS volunteer stand in the midst of the Book Fair pandemoniumThis year, over fifty individuals and organizations donated about two hundred and fifty cartons of used and new Braille books. Thirty or more cartons contained new books donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults; the National Braille Press; Seedlings Braille Books for Children, Inc.; and the Michigan-based Beth El Transcribers. We also received used Braille books from the Montana School for the Blind and other residential programs; from parents of now-grown blind children, such as Bob and Johnna Watson of Maryland; and from teachers from all over the country. Over two hundred people, including children, youth, parents, teachers, and blind adults, attended the event. They took over two hundred boxes of donated books. (The fifty remaining boxes were returned to the NFB office in Baltimore and are in the process of being sorted and packed for shipment to a school for the blind in India.) About sixty Federation volunteers--not counting the volunteer crew from UPS--worked two or more hours each throughout the afternoon and evening to pull off the event.

Our partnership with the local UPS office was a key element to the success of the 2011 event. The UPS office in Orlando received and stored boxes of donated books shipped via Free Matter for the Blind through the United States Post Office. UPS drivers delivered the boxes to the hotel on the morning of the event. Then, later that afternoon, the team leader and UPS liaison, Bessie Graham, arrived with more UPS volunteers. They set up a packing station in the center of the room for those who wanted to ship their selections home. When people finished making their selections at the tables, all they had to do was turn around and head for the center of the room. Within minutes their selections were boxed, labeled, and set aside for UPS to deliver to the post office for Free Matter shipping the next day.

While there are many sources of free and inexpensive books for sighted children, such as public libraries, school libraries, book stores, the book department in Wal-Mart, and yes--even flea markets--the resources available to blind children and their parents and teachers, although better than they used to be, are still extremely limited. The continuing success of the annual Braille Book Fair/Flea Market demonstrates how hungry children are to read Braille and to possess their very own books.

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