Braille Monitor               April 2023

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A Moving Report from the Director of the National Library Service for the Print Disabled

by Jason Broughton

Jason BroughtonFrom the Editor: In this presentation you will see many notes about laughter, cheering, and applause, but I have removed many of them because they occurred so often that at times they get in the way of the written message. It is clear that our librarian also has talent as a comic, so as you read this, appreciate the uplifting feeling that moved our audience. Here is what President Riccobono said to introduce our presenter:

We have just one more presentation this morning, and it is one that we always look forward to, and the individual presenting to us is at his first convention. The National Federation of the Blind has a long-standing relationship with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. After all, we're the customers! We're really pleased to note that the new director of this important government program has made the relationship with the National Federation of the Blind a priority, and he has elected to continue that relationship.

Prior to joining the Library of Congress in 2019, he became the first African American to serve as Vermont's state librarian. For over a decade, he held numerous library roles in both South Carolina and Georgia, where he used his prior training as an educator to focus on such issues as workforce development and public outreach. I've had the opportunity to meet with him a number of times since he took the role—I think even during maybe his first week or so. It was my first time getting to meet him in person. He's been here for a number of days—I think right before the Presidential Report, he came up. So he's not just dipping in and dipping out. He's actually here to participate. Here to speak to us from the Library of Congress is Jason Broughton:

[Intro music: Take a look, it's in a book, a reading rainbow! I can go anywhere, friends to know, and ways to grow, a reading rainbow!
I can be anything, take a look, it's in a book.
JASON singing along: It's in a book...
[Music fades out]

How nice to be welcomed with that. [Applause] How nice! Oh, a microphone is a deadly thing for me to have, because I like to talk! So just know that I hope to keep my comments concise and informative and engaging.

Well, good afternoon. My name is Jason Broughton, and I'm the new director for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, and some would say I am the new Karen Keninger, who was the prior director, whom I also know as well. If I had to use descriptive text to describe myself, for those who want to know, Black male, bald headed, 6'4”, 225, and the body of a Greek god! [Laughter and cheering, and applause] That's just what you need to remember. Well, I did lie a bit. I'm only 6'1''. The rest is true. [Laughter]

As I said, I bring you greetings from the Library of Congress, and with that, I'd like to thank you for having me here today. I and our deputy director, Jason Yasner, are both in attendance, so there are two Jasons at the NLS. [Applause] Thank you to President Riccobono and NFB leadership for the invitation and the opportunity to talk about the importance of literacy, collaborative partnerships, and the National Library Service.

Literacy begins with an understanding of one's world, which includes people, the environment, and daily activities. Providing people with meaningful, diverse, and robust library resources and collections helps to develop basic concepts and contributes to independence as well as enhancing one's quality of life.

As we know, literacy is more than just reading and writing. I grew up in a rural area in South Carolina, out in the boonies, known as Craws. In stating that, I loved learning, which meant I enjoy reading a lot. But that sometimes was at odds with my parents and in the community, because when you read a lot, sometimes you think you know a lot. I used to get some feedback—so you might have heard the following phrases as well if you enjoy reading—"How can you learn so much yet know so little?" "Book sense is not common sense." And of course, my favorite that I heard on a show known as the Prairie Home Companion: "To those people who think they know all of it, it is especially annoying to those of us who do.”

Communication and literacy are interconnected; when you have a literary and literacy rich environment, it supports people in being their best selves. It helps a person to grow. Right now, in the library world, the new sexy thing is guess what? Accessibility. It's the talk of the town in libraries! With that, however, at NLS, we believe that accessibility should always be done at the beginning of a project or process—[applause]—Not shoehorned in at the end. Accessibility leads to discoverability, which aids in literacy. Democracy depends on literate people navigating through the bureaucracy, dealing with the hypocrisy, being pushy about equality, ensuring there is diversity, while keeping their curiosity. [Applause] It's important!

You have a lot of different choices—still not as many as I think a lot of you would like to have. But there are more. And amongst them is the National Library Service. So why choose us? Well, we celebrate our ninety-first year this year for being the library for the blind and print disabled. Thank you!

I'm going to list off a few things as an update to let you know what we're doing to help with literacy and ensure we are hearing from you. With that, in conversation and collaboration with NFB, we work together to discuss with the US Postal Service what Free Matter for the Blind should be with respect to distribution of mail, packages, and parcels. You should expect an announcement from them this month about what they plan to do to improve Free Matter for the Blind. Our deputy said something interesting, however, during the conversation that I think all of you should know, and I want him to take credit for this if it makes it in the report. One of the things that became very unique is that in some cases, people did not realize that free matter for the blind is a first-class mail service. With that, the comment was made that maybe we should change it from calling it Free Matter for the Blind and calling it First-Class Matter for the Blind because we all know you are already first-class.

Other actions that we're doing: We are piloting Braille On Demand, where you can be provided one Braille book a month. We are ensuring that our workforce at NLS, within the Library of Congress, is representative of the service population. So we are still growing and also working on that.

When it comes to our collection, we've started to modernize that through the Marrakesh Treaty. We now have over 2,800 new works on our Braille Audio Reading Download, which you know as BARD. Thanks to you and others, we've had over 41,000 patron downloads this year, and we've added 131,000 NLS titles to the World Intellectual Property Organization, known as WIPO. We also have thirteen new foreign languages we have introduced. Something that has surprised us in a wonderful way: some of you have personally emailed me and called me to learn how to get into this pilot for our refreshable Braille displays. We now have them in thirty-seven states, and that number is growing. Over 4,000 are now distributed, and by the end of the year we hope to have an additional 6,000 deployed. The expectation has gone beyond what we could have ever imagined. It is absolutely stunning, and we are reporting this to the Library of Congress and to Congress itself, who is also aware.

We have eased access for the reading disabled. We now serve over 10,000 reading-disabled individuals, a 50 percent increase to our service. We also have duplication on demand where you can have one cartridge with multiple titles. That's going to be a cost-efficient item and also a space-saving item for our network libraries.

For the future, here's what we're thinking. We have, in a sense, some updates that we're going to do to BARD when it comes to microservices. We're also doing things with large print and embossed Braille; tactile and graphic displays will be things of prominence in our future.

For those who have been waiting for us to research and hopefully develop something that's really going to be a game changer that takes some time, we are working to research a smart speaker, an Alexa for you to simply audibly say "Alexa, I'd like to have..." and it becomes available. It is taking us some time, but we are still in a positive mode to look to see when that will become available.

We're also expanding our collections. We're having wonderful outreach and partnerships with the United States Postal Service, and one of our biggest and most proud items is doing what we're doing with the Veterans Administration in the form of a VA rapid signup. We hope this will help more people who, in a sense, have unfortunately had vision or impairment come to them to ensure that they understand that we are here to help assist in their quality of life.

I would like to thank NFB for your continued support on an effort that has been going on, as I understand it, for over twenty years. For those who might not know, and again, this is just what my staff tells me, we once were on the Capitol Complex in DC, and we were temporarily moved for a unique little reason, and unfortunately, fifty years later, we are still on that temporary move. Congress itself has the decision to decide if NLS will relocate back to the Capitol Complex. [Cheering and applause] Conversations continue. We are very optimistic. With that, I'd like to thank NFB for your support and words and kindness.

As I begin to close, I'd also like to thank and give you an update on an award we give known as Library of the Year, and with that, our regional winner was going to be, and is, the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle, Washington, and the sub regional was the Panelis Talking Book Library in Clearwater, Florida. I'm quite sure that makes a lot of people happy, which is wonderful and a thing that we love to have every year.

As I begin to close, I want you to know that we have a focus group that we're conducting from 12:30 to 1:30 in Gallery 4. We seek your input, your insight, your comments, and also if you'd like to sign up for any beta tests that we're looking at with our NLS technology. Because we want to hear from you. As I tell my staff, one of the things that's really important that they need to understand as I take the helm is that we don't need to worry about being right. We need to GET it right. And that's very important in this business.

I'm making my comments concise because we are getting close to 12:00, and since we are in an international food city, one thing I've learned is you do not come between people and their food! So, as they say here in New Orleans, let the good times roll! [Cheering and applause]

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