On Tuesdays, my husband, Tim, and I narrate books for the Texas Talking Book Program. The free service, which depends heavily on volunteers, is affiliated with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, administered by the Library of Congress.
When I brought Tim to Austin eight years ago, he had fifteen years of experience with the Colorado Talking Book Program. He’s the better narrator in the family. His acting background has been a bonus as he does characters and dialects well, which is not a requirement for narrators. In fact, there are those who would prefer to leave such interpretations up to the reader, but Tim’s narration often brings kudos from the people who review our work.
The Texas Talking Book Program, now in its forty-first year, serves anyone who cannot read or hold a book. A majority of patrons are blind or have low vision, but other patrons include those who have a reading disability, can’t read English, or can’t hold a book. Books chosen for recording have a Texas theme or setting or are written by Texas authors. Priority is given to patron requests.
Over the years, the program has faced the challenge of adapting to technological change. Today’s recordings are done in a digital format. Once recorded, a book is copied onto cartridges, which are mailed to patrons, who load them into a specially designed player provided by the program. Currently an ambitious program is underway to convert archived books from tape to digital.
In recent years, books recorded in Texas and elsewhere have become available nationwide through BARD, which stands for Braille and Audio Reading Download.
You can’t get much more patron-friendly than the Talking Book Program. Everything, including players and mailing costs, is provided free of charge. Patrons can even call and talk to a reader adviser for help in selecting books. I learned only recently that there’s a phone-in book club so that people can get together via a conference call to discuss a selected book.
Every once in a while, I like to stop and think about the significance of what Tim and I and all the other volunteers and staff are doing. I like this quote from a patron: “When my vision deteriorated, much of the fun of life disappeared. The Talking Book Program restored much of the zest of living.”
Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.