Stay Connected to Reading with the TSLAC Talking Book Program

Welcome to the New Year, everyone. Before I kick off the first blog of the new year, I will report that the launch of the legislative session and this week’s inauguration of a new administration has come and gone with no incident around our building in downtown Austin. All is well and quiet and what few protesters were around the Capitol were peaceful.

Reader Consultant Victor Hunter assists patrons in locating their next great read in the TBP Call Center.

Against the background of historical events in our state and nation, our team at TSLAC continues with resolute determination to provide information services to Texans in all parts of the state. Those services have been more important during the pandemic than ever. The Talking Book Program (TBP) is a prime example of a TSLAC service that has been even more important than ever during the pandemic.

The Talking Book Program provides books and other reading materials to Texans who cannot read standard print because of a visual impairment or other disability. Those materials are mainly recorded books and magazines provided by mail or digital download to patrons all across the state, but also include large print books and Braille materials. As one can imagine, the clientele of this program, even in the best of times, might tend to be isolated and in particular need of reading materials, but during the lockdowns and because of the limitations of the pandemic, that need has only increased. To be able to receive materials mailed or downloaded completely free of charge has been a lifeline to these Texans.

Library Collections Technician Jonathan Gibbs pulls large print materials for patrons at the TBP warehouse.

About 11,420 persons in virtually every county in Texas borrowed a total of 763,767 books and downloaded another 293,269 items. That is a total of 1,057,036 items loaned to Texans in 2020. With a total number of registered patrons of 17,977, that represents a total rate of circulation of 58.7 items per capita. If the Talking Book Program were a public library in Texas, that would be one of the highest rates of circulation in the state.

The TSLAC Talking Book Program is affiliated with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, a division of the U.S. Library of Congress. As an affiliate, TBP patrons are able to receive absolutely free of charge, access to a national collection of many hundreds of thousands of books and other recorded materials. Not too long ago, those materials were delivered either by analog cassette or by a single title on a digital cartridge. Increasingly, those materials are delivered in digital formats and many are downloaded directly to devices.

And in addition to the books that TSLAC patrons borrow from the national collection, we also contribute recorded books that patrons in other states can use. For over 40 years, the TBP Recording Studio has recorded books and magazines about Texas that are uploaded via a system known as the Braille Audio Recording Download, or BARD. To-date, TSLAC has contributed 266 books to BARD, including 35 titles uploaded in 2020. All those books recorded in the TSLAC recording studio are done by more than 100 volunteer readers and monitors who contributed 4,033 hours of their time in 2020 alone. During the pandemic, many of our volunteers continued their work from home, including in improvised recording “studios” created in living rooms and closets!

Staff of the Talking Book Program are eager to help patrons find their way to good books to read. Readers advisors spend thousands of hours on the phone each year with patrons helping them find their next reads. Also, TBP staff offer a regularly scheduled book club for readers to discuss specific books. Upcoming 2021 titles to be discussed can be found here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/tbp/tbpbookclub/index.html

Do you know a friend or family member who could use this program? It is easy to sign up to use the services. You can visit the TBP website at www.TexasTalkingBooks.com or call 1-800-252-9605. You can also learn more about this program at the Talking Book Program Blog at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/texastalkingbooks/