Braille Monitor                                                                                March 1986



Library Service Current Program and Future Opportunities

by Frank Kurt Cylke

(Note: Frank Kurt Cylke--Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress--was slated to deliver an address at the 1985 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Louisville; and, indeed, he did speak at the announced time. However, he did not speak on the announced topic. Instead, the program was changed, and he was asked to participate on a panel concerning the production and distribution of Braille. He graciously consented to the last minute change in plan and acquitted himself well in the give and take of the panel discussion.

But this left his prepared remarks undelivered, so we are taking this opportunity to bring those remarks to Monitor readers in the present article. In the meantime Judith Dixon, Head of the Consumer Relations Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, has prepared additional material which seems logically to follow the comments by Mr. Cylke. Here, then, is the address which Mr. Cylke intended to give at the 1985 NFB convention.)

Like all of you, I have special times and special things which when thought about and savored, bring pleasure. This annual gathering of the NFB membership is one of those special times for me. I do look forward to July each year. It is an opportunity for me, as Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to address you collectively, as I am now, and to meet with you individually in a more informal atmosphere to discuss program matters in some depth. I do hope that those of you who do have questions requiring lengthy answers will meet with me when time will not be a concern.

There is no more important activity for a person responsible for a program affecting services to individuals. Therefore, I thank all of you for once again permitting me to attend and participate in this meeting of the National Federation of the Blind.

Library Service

When discussing my attendance today Mr. Jernigan suggested that you might appreciate an update on our current activities and some comments about the future of library service for blind and physically handicapped individuals. I agreed, and thus I will spend a few minutes on our current activity and a bit more time on thoughts about the future of library service.

Current Readership is steady! The final figures for 1984 show a total readership of 629,140--a 1.2 percent growth over 1983. Similarly, the 1984 circulation of books and magazines shows an average increase of 2 percent--with a solid increase of 9.3 percent in the area of cassette circulation. Braille circulation varied the most. We actually showed a 1 percent drop in the circulation of Braille books to individuals in 1984 and found an increase of 3.8 percent in magazine circulation--with an overall increase of 2.19 percent. These figures are currently being studied and the implications analyzed in connection with other data.

The machine production situation is under control. T~lex is producing the current cassette machine models with no identified problem at the rate of approximately 1,400 each week. 356 EZ machines are on their way to the libraries at this time and, barring unforeseen circumstances, 20,000 will be in the hands of users within eighteen months. The combination machine will be issued as soon as the EZ and cassette machine production lines have demonstrated a problem-free shipping capability.

Thanks in great part to the concern of Barbara Cheadle and to National Federation of the Blind members interested in children we are placing an added emphasis on work with children. Leslie Eldridge, a librarian with special training and interest in children set out to assess the NLS service pattern.

She interviewed children and their mothers, special education teachers, child development counselors, reading specialists, and, of course, practicing librarians. Their individual views were collected in a book titled R Is For Reading; A copy of this book will soon be available in Braille and on cassette for your use. In summary, it may be stated that we must place a great effort on refining our program for children. We may analyze Ms. Eldridge's reports and recommendations and modify our approach where necessary. I will bring Mr. Jernigan up to date as we progress and inform you directly in our future meetings. I leave this topic with the comment that children and young people will remain a high priority with NLS.

The Future

When contemplating or attempting to project the future, it is always necessary to work off a base of common knowledge or understanding. So, first we must ask: How does access to print material differ for the blind and physically handicapped population than for the general public? The blind individual: is often dependent on a mechanical device; finds no usable material at newsstands; traditionally finds no usable material in bookstores. Of course, this is changing as more cassette books appear in bookstores.

Next we ask: How does library service to blind and physically handicapped individuals as it is currently provided differ from that provided to the general population? As we all know: materials are provided by mail; subscriptions to magazines are free to the user; books may be selected from one's residence; no fine levied for overdue books; there are fewer reference materials available. Then, how does "library service" as it is currently being provided to the general public differ from that provided to blind and visually impaired individuals? Public libraries offer their patrons much more than books to borrow and magazines to read. Public libraries provide: personalized reference services; bibliographic information; business information; professional journals; science and technical information; as well as a plethora of other services.

Now, are blind and physically handicapped persons availing themselves of the services offered by public libraries? I assume probably not as much as they can. Possibly the reasons for this are: the prevailing perception of public librarians is that the library service to blind persons is offered by the "special-regional" library--there are no readers at the public library; the information, once it is obtained, is usually in print form only; blind persons are often unfamiliar with what kinds of information are available "for the asking" at the public library.

Finally, as blind persons are becoming employed at higher levels, starting business, etc., reading needs are changing. The need for recreational material is apparently being satisfied. (I trust this statement is not too self congratulatory.) The need for professional reading is not being satisfied in an organized way. Through the creative use of technology, these needs can be met more and more by the public library. Libraries can make newspaper and journal articles, information from on-line services, and other materials available in special format.

Examples: 1) Phoenix Public Library, Access Center! 2) Boulder Public Library, and 3) the cooperative project between the Texas Library for the Blind and the Texas State Library's Information Services Division. Texas plans to share their experience with the development of a research reading center that allows access to printed materials with public libraries.

Future: Summary With perseverance, appropriate patterns will be developed. I will take the opportunity to call together an appropriate group of representatives from agencies interested in broadening the library/information service currently available to blind and physically handicapped individuals within the next few months. Then, to coin a phrase, "We will see what the future holds."

In summary, it may be noted that if the varied reading/library needs are to be met in the future, a combination of existing library services must be melded together with services not now existing. This will require a concerted effort by all interested parties--the National Federation of the Blind, NLS, Recording for the Blind, volunteer groups, and traditional print library organizations.


In the short fifteen minutes allotted to me, I have touched briefly upon many topics. Obviously, it has been impossible to discuss any of them in depth. Therefore, I welcome your questions now and do look forward to our more personal conversations during the remainder of this convention. Thank you.