Future Reflections Spring/ Summer1989, Vol. 8 No. 2

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WHAT CAN YOU DO? SOME REFLECTIONS ON LIBRARY SERVICES FOR BLIND CHILDREN

by Barbara Cheadle

There has been a steady increase within the past four or five years in the emphasis and attention given to library services for blind children. Not coincidentally, it was about five years ago that parents of blind children began to speak up at NFB national conventions about library services and books for blind children. Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS), fielded our questions and listened to our recommendations. Sometimes he agreed with us, and sometimes he didn't. But he always listened. (National Federation of the Blind Conventions are great places to buttonhole top officials in work with the blind. The directors and administrators from the Social Security Administration, the Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, the Library for the Blind, etc. who attend Federation conventions as guest speakers, come to listen as well as to speak.)

NLS has responded to our concern for quality children's services in a number of ways in recent years. For example, in 1985 NLS commissioned and published a book about reading and library services called, R is for Reading. The book raised many issues and pointed out several deficiencies in library services to blind children around the country. NLS then formed an internal committee Yes, we are making progress. But, as always, how far and how fast we advance depends upon individuals who make a personal commitment and who get out and do what needs to be done.

If you would like to do something to improve library services for blind children, but just aren't sure where to begin, here are some suggestions:

1. Join the National Federation of the Blind in your state and find out what your NFB affiliate is doing to improve library service. You may be asked to write letters, testify at hearings, or serve on a committee. If your affiliate is not doing anything regarding library services at the moment, find out why and volunteer to work on a library improvement project. Sometimes our affiliates are so swamped with problems and issues that it is not possible to work on everything that needs to be changed. But if even one more person joins the chapter, then the affiliate may be able to take on another project that needs doing.

2. Learn how to use your regional library for the blind and then teach your child how to use the library independently. Your child should know how to use the equipment properly and should be responsible for returning books promptly and in good condition. On the other hand, he or she should also learn from you what to expect from the library. At the minimum the library should provide prompt, courteous, and professional service. It is not acceptable, for example, for librarians to discuss what books a patron reads with anyone (including your child's teacher) but the patron, or, in the case of a blind child, with the blind child's parents.

3. Encourage your library for the blind to get involved with community projects which highlight the importance of literacy, reading, library services, etc. In Maryland the library for the blind has participated for two years in a Read-AThon held in one of the city's most popular malls. Along with sighted men, women, and children, blind adults and children read aloud to passing shoppers. This project helps the public understand that although the method of reading is different (Braille instead of print) for the blind, the end result--literacy--is the same. (Please note that this project wouldn't be possible if blind adults and parents of blind children did not participate. In this case the library asked the local NFB chapter to help recruit adults and children to read, and we did.)

4. Encourage your library for the blind to set up special programs for young blind readers, such as the summer reading program described in the article "Washington Library Initiates Children's Reading Program" on page 19 of this issue. Again, be prepared to support the program by seeing to it that your child and others participate.

NOTE: The NFB contact person regarding library services for blind children is Barbara Cheadle. If you have questions, comments, or recommendations regarding those services that you would like to share, you may contact:

Mrs. Barbara Cheadle
1800 Johnson Street,
Baltimore, MD 21230;
(301) 659-9314 or (301) 747-3472.

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