Free Braille and talking books available

Courtesy Photo Lynn Buckland-Brown, a reader adviser with the Great Lakes Talking Books and Outreach Center in Marquette, displays the certification she earned during an orientation session for the National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Impaired, Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C.

As a reader adviser for Great Lakes Talking Books and Outreach Center, Lynn Buckland-Brown knows how important the service she provides can be to patrons.

Many of those she helps by providing free talking books and related equipment deal with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness or a physical disability that prevents them from reading or holding printed pages.

“A lot of our patrons are in their 60s and 70s with macular degeneration,” Buckland-Brown said. “The service really is a godsend for them, especially for those who are isolated.”

She said some of the patrons check their mail, then call her to report when the books they ordered haven’t arrived. She is able to track the books and let them know when they might arrive or send out additional books so that they will have something to read.

“If they are blind and have no books to listen to, then they don’t have anything to listen to all day,” Buckland-Brown said. “It becomes an important part of their lives.”

Though they may not realize it, Alpena County residents currently are eligible for this service through the Superior Library Cooperative based in Marquette. The Great Lakes Talking Books and Outreach Center, an affiliate of the National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Impaired, Library of Congress, is based out of the Superior Library Cooperative.

The majority of patrons served hail from the Upper Peninsula. According to Buckland-Brown, the total number who take advantage of the service is around 600. While Alpena County residents can use the service too, she said many still don’t know about it.

“I’ve sent mailings to all the adult foster care facilities in Alpena and to all the optometrists and to everyone I could think of, but there still are a lot of people who don’t know about it,” she said. “I’m always trying to promote it.”

Although many may still not know about the service available in Alpena, it first began in 1934 as an Act of Congress and ultimately falls under the United States Library of Congress, which offers the service through library cooperatives such as the one that includes Alpena County. There is no charge for any of the materials received and no postage to pay.

Reading materials come in a variety of formats, including in Braille or recorded format, mailed to patrons for free. Books also are instantly downloadable online or through a mobile app.

How it works is that patrons must first fill out an application. Buckland-Brown is available to help with the application process at 906-228-7697 (toll free at 800-562-8985). Those interested can also go online to tb@greatlakestalkingbooks.org and submit the paperwork online. She then processes the applications so that the patrons can then order their machines for reading books on tape as well their books. Tech savvy patrons can download materials themselves onto their iPhone, iPad or computer.

“Those are materials they don’t have to return,” Buckland-Brown said. “They can actually start building their own library and keep their books.”

For those patrons who travel south for the winter months, the service still remains available to them.

“If they go away, even to Mexico, the books can be shipped there,” Buckland-Brown said. “A lot of people go to Florida for the winter. We just change them to their winter address.”

The majority of patrons do opt to have books mailed to them as opposed to taking advantage of the download service, she said. There are 100,000 audiobook titles currently available.

Just about any book that a publisher records as audiobook is purchased by the Library of Congress. Additional books are recorded in studios in Washington, D.C. for the Library of Congress and then made available to the public.

“Some local books also are recorded in Lansing that are then made available to patrons,” she said. “They really work on getting Michigan authors, such as Steve Hamilton, on audiobook since there’s not always a lot of demand nationally for a Michigan book.”

To be eligible for the talking book service, patrons much be physically or visually impaired or have a reading disability. If they are visually or physically impaired, they can have a librarian sign their application for them. If they have a reading disability, Buckland-Brown said then they need a doctor to sign the application.

Those in counties outside of Alpena are advised to contact their local library to find out which library cooperative provides the free Braille and talking book service for their area.