Release Date: 
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Chris Danielsen
Public Relations Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Congressional Subcommittee Action on Talking Book Program

Increase in Funding Will Preserve Literacy for Blind Americans

Washington, DC (June 24, 2008): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, today applauded a vote by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch to increase funding for the Talking Book program operated by the Library of Congress.  The vote, taken yesterday by the subcommittee, will increase funding to convert the collection of Talking Books, currently recorded on cassette tapes, to new digital technology.  The conversion is needed because cassette tapes are now obsolete and the machines to play them are no longer being manufactured.  The new digital Talking Books will last longer and include advanced features allowing the blind to navigate the recorded books in the same way a sighted reader flips through a printed book.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Yesterday’s vote by the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch will dramatically increase access to literacy and information for the ever-increasing number of Americans who cannot read print and therefore rely on the Talking Book program.  Congress has sent a strong message that blind Americans are equal to the sighted and that access to public library service for blind Americans is just as important as it is for sighted Americans.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said: “One role of the subcommittee is to exercise stewardship of the programs of the Library of Congress, and the Talking Book program is a vital resource that ensures that the Library is serving all Americans.  It is our nation’s public policy that all Americans are equal, and funding the Talking Book program is a tangible expression of that policy.”

Tom Latham, the ranking member of the subcommittee, said: “The Talking Book program is a critical service of the Library of Congress that provides blind Americans with the reading materials they need for education, professional development, and leisure.  The subcommittee is pleased that we were able to allocate sufficient funds to advance the conversion of Talking Books to newer, more advanced technology that will serve the needs of the program’s patrons for years to come.”

Yesterday’s vote allocated $34.5 million for the Talking Book program.  This amount will allow the Library of Congress to complete the conversion of the collection of Talking Books to a digital format within three years and provide for the manufacture of special machines to play the new books.  Books and the machines to play them are loaned to patrons through a network of cooperating libraries throughout the United States.  The funding provided, if approved by the Senate, will ensure that new machines are distributed to the program’s patrons well before the antiquated cassette machines they are currently using can wear out, as well as giving patrons access to thousands of titles in the new digital format.