Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pittsburgh's Library for the Blind converts to digital audio books

From PR Newswire:

PITTSBURGH -- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) has announced it is beginning distribution of new digital audio books and digital players to its customers. The digital books and players will eventually replace the now outdated analog audio cassette books and cassette book machines which library customers have used since the 1970's.

LBPH loans audio books, audio players, and large print books to approximately 10,000 readers with visual and physical disabilities in 36 Western Pennsylvania counties. The books are sent through the mail to library patrons postage-free.

LBPH is a member library of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress. After years of planning, testing and soliciting feedback from users, NLS has developed a digital system that marks an exciting new phase for readers with visual and physical limitations.

The digital system has many advantages. Slightly larger than a credit card, the digital audio book is a flash cartridge that provides clearer sound quality. Most books will fit on a single cartridge that will play to completion without flipping sides. The format is highly reliable since the cartridge has no moving parts that can break or tapes that can tangle.

Smaller and lighter than the audio cassette machine, the digital player is more portable. The player has an internal battery that holds a charge for 30 hours as compared to 6 hours with the cassette player. It also has enhanced navigation features that allow the reader to jump to various sections. Consumers who tested the digital player appreciated its superior sound quality, tone, volume responsiveness and variable speed capability as well as its index and bookmark features.

LBPH Director Kathleen Kappel explained, "Digital talking books are the most revolutionary change to LBPH services since Thomas Edison's 'talking record' in 1934. Readers get better sound, the ability to skip to other sections and a practically indestructible format. We hope to attract thousands of eligible Pennsylvanians. No one should be denied reading."

To utilize LBPH services, readers with disabilities must first register with the library. Individuals who cannot read standard size print, hold books steady or turn pages qualify. Many LBPH customers are older adults with illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, macular degeneration or severe arthritis. Those with reading disabilities caused by conditions such as dyslexia or stroke also qualify. Nearly 160,000 Pennsylvanians with disabilities are eligible for these library services, and the number will increase dramatically as the baby boomers age.