Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Tuscaloosa Public Library

Books For the Blind 9-13-81.jpg


Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Tuscaloosa Public Library




For many years at the Main Branch of the Tuscaloosa Public Library, Librarian Barbara Jordan was in charge of the Blind and Physically Handicapped Sub-Regional Library. Providing everything from books on tape to Braille Periodicals, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped served a very special group of patrons. This article from 1981 gives the full story on Barbara Jordan's contributions to the West Alabama Community.


Tuscaloosa News Archive


September 13, 1981


Tuscaloosa Public Library






Tuscaloosa (AL)


A man's voice, obviously Southern, spoke the now famous words, Frankly, my dear..." The voice does not belong to Clark Gable as he plays Rhett Bulter addressing Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind." Rather, it is a professionally-trained reader, providing blind and physically handicapped people who have up until now been unable to read with a chance to enjoy the immortal clasic by Margaret Mitchell.
   "Every word is read, even the title pages and dedications," Barbara Jordan, librarian of the facilities for the visually and physically handicapped at the Tuscaloosa Public Library, explained.
     The Tuscaloosa Public Library is classified as a Sub-Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Housed on the library's second floor are literally thousands of recordings, tapes, and braille books which make the world of reading a real consideration in the lives of the blind and physically handicapped.
    The program to provide services for primarily the blind began in 1974, but has grown by leaps and bounds to its present state, Mrs. Jordan said. "The program is open to anyone who cannot use the regular library because of a visual or physical handicap," she explained. Mrs. Jordan said that while visual impairments obviously prevent people form using regular library resources, such as physical disabilities or debillitating diseases as arthritis, cerebal palsy, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis also prevent readers from enjoying normal library services.
     People who wish to partake of the library's program Mrs. Jordan explained, are first asked to fill out an application, which inquires into the type and degree of disability and must be certified by a doctor or other certifying authority. Since the services the library provides are all free, Mrs. Jordan said, these applications are necessary.
     After Mrs. Jordan gets the completed form and makes sure the person is eligible to user the service, the applicant is then ready to use whatever facilities he finds most useful. Mrs. Jordan who said the program covers not only Tuscaloosa but Pickens County, does a lot of traveling, going to the homes of people who are unable to go to the library.
     Braille books are available of course, but the most popular and innovative is the "talking book" where an entire book is read onto a tape or record. The library furnishes record players and tape players to participants in the talking book program, and also keeps the equipment in tip-top shape. The talking book program, Mrs. Jordan explained, is part of the LIbrary of Congress' free reading program, and all materials come from Washington, and some of it from Washington through the Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Montgomery.
     The Tuscaloosa Public Library houses around 9,000 of the talking books, either in record or tape form, Mrs. Jordan said, adding that there are some 20,000 titles now available.
     And she explained that in some respects, the people using the blind and handicapped facilities have an advantage- if they find a book they want to read which is not being currently housed in the library, all they have to do is tell Mrs. Jordan, and the book is promptly ordered.
     Both the "books" and the recording equipment are given to participating library patrons on loan much as the regular library browser checks out a book.
     As for what types of books are offered by the talking book program, Mrs. Jordan said "just about everything." There are catalogs of the books available that the program participants can choose from, and several times a year, a supplement called "Talking Book Topics" is released featuring new books available.
     In the July/August issues of "Talking Book Topics," for example, 17 new nonfiction records were offered, along with 45 new fiction records. Some of these selections in nonfiction included a biography of composer Eubie Blake, a book entitled "Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970," Wood Allen's "Side Effects," Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" and William Manchester's recent bestseller, "Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War."
     In fiction, offerings included the latest volume of John Jakes' "Kent Family Chronicles," a collection of W. Somerset Maugham's short stories, Stephen King's "Night Shift," James Michener's "The Covenant," and Alistair MacLean's "Athabasca." Also featured were what Mrs. Jordan said were extremely popular- reomances by the likes of Victorial Holt and westerns by the likes of Max Brand.
    A different group of books is offered in cassette form each month, and August offerings included nonfiction ranging from a history of the rock group Fleetwood Mac or a description of the cardiovascular system, to self-help books on dieting, smoking, and "sellings your way to success."
     Fiction in cassettes range from the bestseller fare of Peter Maas' "Made in America" and Belva Plain's "Random Winds' to the literature of Jorge Luis Borges and the mysteries of Ross Macdonald.
     According to Mrs. Jordan, some of the most popular types of books with Tuscaloosa patrons are the romances, the mysteries, and the bestsellers. But, particularly with older readers, she said the Bible and books on religion are extremely popular. The Bible, she said is probably their most popular book.
     The taped readers, she said, are all professional readers, except on the rare occasion when an author chooses to read his own book. Those instances, such as William F. Buckley reading one of his books or Desi Arnaz or Pearl Bailey doing theirs are always popular, she added.
      Usually, though, the books are professionally read, from front cover and title page clear to the end. Naturally, when one is considering a book the length of "Gone With the Wind" for example there is a lot of time involved in listening to it, perhaps more so than reading. Yes Mrs. Jordan said their really avid "readers" will sometimes go through as many as five books in a week.
      "Many of our people can't leave their homes, and a lot of the older ones live alone and are unable to get out. So when I go to their homes and take their books to them, sometimes that is the only contact they get," Mrs. Jordan said, adding that all of the people are very interested and enthusiastic about the program, and are grateful for her visits.
      Most of the people- young and old- prefer the male readers to the female readers for some reason, she said. And people will get their favorite readers and sometimes check that reader's book out just to hear his voice. The readers are as realistic as possible, and Mrs. Jordan said although she would not normally sit down and read a Western novel, she can easily sit and liten to one being read, complete with the "dagnabbits" and sound effects, and thoroughly enjoy it. Southern readers read things like "Gone With the Wind," while Britis readers do mysteries by Agatha Christie and Ken Folliett and Robert Ludlum.
     So when the readers choose from this wide selection what they want to read, Mrs. Jordan goes to their homes with the records or cassettes and the equipment and shows them how to use it. The person keeps the "book" until he is finished with it, then simply uses the post-paid card attached to the tape or record and drops it in the mail, where it is delivered promptly back to the library.
     After a person has been using the program a while and is familiar with the equipment, he can simply use a card or phone call to order the books he wants and everthing is handled by mail at no charge whatsoever to the reader, Mrs. Jordan explained.
     Since the program is part of a federal organization, she said, the LIbrary of Congress provides the library with everything except the place to house it and her own services. And, Mrs. Jordan said, she is firmly convinced that the people in Washington are really doing a good job. "I have really been impressed with what Washington does with this program," she said, explaining that all the equipment is durable and that care is obviously taken in choosing it.
     Mrs. Jordan added that no censorship is used in choosing the material in the hopes of offering the blind and physcially handicapped individual as wide a range of subject matter as possible. She said the "racy" novels of Harold Robbins or Sidney Sheldon are offered as well as conventional reading fare. And anything that is in the original copy of the book is in the talking book as well.
     Another service the program participants are able to use is a magazine subscription service. They can, through the library subscribe to magazines either in braille or in record or tape form. A reader can subscribe to Newsweek, for example, send in a subscription form and wait the average six weeks for processing. After tha, he will receive his copy of Newsweek every week at the same time as regular subscribers. A reader will read everything in the magazines except the advertisements, Mrs. Jordan said.
     Magazines are available for all ages and tastes, from Jack and Jill to Ranger Rick and Humpty Dumpty for the younger set, Teen and Seventeen for the teen-age group, to anything from Horizon to the Atlantic Monthly to Good Housekeeping to Playboy for adult readers.
     According to Mrs. Jordan, the library program now services about 200 readers, and the program is available to anyone who is visually or physically handicapped who cannot otherwise use library facilities. Anyone interested in the program should contact Mrs. Jordan at the Tuscaloosa Public Library.

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