Braille Monitor                                                                                March 1986



Library Service in the Information Age

by Judith M. Dixon Head,
Consumer Relations Section
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.

Keeping pace with rapidly changing information needs has long been a priority for librarians in any setting. Add to this the growing emphasis on immediate access, the advances in information-related technology, and the ever changing nature of the information itself, and it can easily be seen why the developments of the past few years have been termed an "information explosion. Librarians and consumers alike are already reaping the benefits of this burgeoning information age. A trip to your local public library today reveals a vastly different scene than would have greeted you a decade ago--librarians are searching for materials and circulating books with computers of all sizes, hundreds of on-line databases are putting information literally at the public's fingertips, and some libraries even have microcomputers and software available for the use of visitors.

With similar advances, libraries which serve blind and physically handicapped individuals with Braille and /or talking books are also able to provide an ever widening variety of materials and services to their patrons.


Finding out what materials are available from the library has become easier. With a quarterly microfiche catalog--a computer-produced cumulative listing of all books in the NLS collection as well as many available elsewhere--librarians are able to search the holdings of Recording for the Blind and as far away as Australia. Library staff can access this catalog by author, title, subject, book number, and even narrator to locate a particular book or to create a comprehensive listing of desired materials.

If the request is more complicated, a computerized database can be searched. Catalogs of recently produced titles are compiled on an annual basis for cassette books and on a biennial basis for disc, Braille, and children's books. All are produced in large print and in the appropriate format as books in the collection. Catalogs of Braille books are produced in Braille for mass distribution, and plans for this year include providing catalogs of recorded titles to patrons on flexible discs.

To provide listings of books of popular interest, subject bibliographies are produced each year. Recent additions to this series are Short Novels, which includes novels of one cassette, no more than two discs, or no more than two Braille volumes; and Romances, which includes Harlequins, regencies, gothies, classics, and other titles of this genre. The large print editions of these bibliographies contain listings of material in all three media, the disc editions contain listings of the recorded books, and the Braille editions contain listings of the Braille books. Plans for this year are for four shorter bibliographies listing children's books at several age/grade levels.

To assist patrons in obtaining materials not available, a biennial publication entitled Volunteers Who Produce Books is compiled. This comprehensive directory lists volunteer groups and individuals who are able to transcribe and record books and other materials. The listing is alphabetical by state and represents such services as: Braille transcription, large type transcription, tape recording, duplication, and binding. Specialties listed include music, mathematics, computer Braille, and a variety of foreign languages. The 1984 edition of this directory is available through network libraries in large print and Braille.


Recent collection development efforts have responded to requests for more information and reference works. Computer books, travel books, and how-to books of all kinds are being added on a regular basis along with a wide variety of serious and light fiction. In the past few years, foreign language materials have been added to library holdings in increasing numbers. A 1984 catalog entitled Foreign Language Books, available in large print and on flexible disc, provides a cumulative listing of the foreign language titles that can be borrowed directly from network libraries. In addition to the national collection of Braille and recorded titles in a variety of languages, network libraries now have access to over thirty foreign language bibliographies that list other sources of foreign language materials in special format, both within the United States and overseas.

The number of magazines in special format continues to change to respond to current interests. Recent additions available through the national program include Poetry in Braille, Popular Computing in Braille, and Journal Francais d'Amerique (French language) on flexible disc. For a listing of the magazines available through network libraries as well as magazines produced by other organizations, consult the reference circular entitled Magazines in Special Media: Subscription Sources, which is available in regular print, flexible disc, and Braille.

Magazine of the Month on flexible disc and Magazine of the Quarter in Braille both continue to be popular items. Intended to provide subscribers with an opportunity to browse a variety of magazines not normally available, these subscriptions also give consumers an opportunity to rate selections annually.

These ratings are considered carefully when future additions to the programs are possible. Recent issues of Magazine of the Month have been Family Computing Congressional Digest, Popular Communications, and High Technology. Recent issues of Magazine of the Quarter have been Bon Apetit, Ham Radio, Cosmopolitan, and Gentlemen's Quarterly.


The newest piece of NLS-produced playback equipment is the Easy Cassette Book Machine. This machine was developed in response to requests for a more automatic, simpler to operate, cassette machine. This machine was designed to serve the needs of patrons who, because of age or disability, may not be able to use the standard cassette machine, or who are confused by the operation of the standard machine.

The Easy Machine frees the user from many of the routine tasks associated with cassette operation. Once inserted, a cassette need never be removed until the entire recording has been played. The machine will switch tracks automatically and, if undisturbed when the end of the last recorded side is reached, will automatically rewind the cassette to the beginning of the first track. When the next cassette is placed in the machine, the machine will rewind it automatically to the beginning of the first track and begin playing without further ado.

Currently, the Easy Cassette Book Machine is in the process of being evaluated by network libraries and consumers. After approved recommendations have been incorporated into the final design, units will be available for those desiring this specialized piece of equipment.

Lightweight headphones will soon be available from network libraries. Weighing just three ounces, this redesigned accessory has a six-foot cord with a quarter-inch plug on the end enabling it to be used with a cassette machine or disc player. The new headphones are of the open-air type, allowing the wearer to hear ambient noise while listening with headphones.

Requests for the lightweight headphones can be sent to network libraries in early 1986.


To satisfy information needs about materials and services available from many sources, reference publications on topics of broad interest are produced on a regular basis. A recently published reference circular is Parent's Guide to the Development of Preschool Handicapped Children: Resources and Services. Soon to be available are From School To Working Life: Resources and Services and Sources of Braille Reading Materials. A complete list of reference circulars and reference bibliographies can be obtained from the NLS Reference Section. Most of these materials are produced in regular print, but some of particular interest to patrons are also produced in limited quantities in Braille and recorded formats.

Another area that is currently being developed is that of tactile maps. A special collection of these maps is being established at NLS. Maps are being acquired from sources throughout the world and once a sufficient supply has been obtained, a comprehensive catalog will be produced and made available to libraries and patrons. Tactile maps will be available for borrowing either through network libraries or directly from NLS.

Many of the materials newly available are being produced because of expressed needs of consumers. It is hoped that blind and physically handicapped individuals will continue to make their needs and interests known. Questions, comments, complaints, or suggestions are welcomed by network libraries as well as NLS. You may contact the Consumer Relations Section at NLS by writing to Consumer Relations Section, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20542; or by calling (202) 287-6397.