This week in Talking Book

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Victor Hunter of the TSLAC Talking Book Program reading from the Braille edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Barnes & Noble.

We were very happy to participate this week in a marathon reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Austin. TSLAC/TBP staffer Victor Hunter participated in the reading in a–no pun intended–novel way: he read from a Braille edition of the book. There was much curiosity about the edition he was reading from and some people in the audience came around behind the podium to get a closer look while others approached Victor and staff after the reading to ask questions about it.

We are proud to circulate Braille books from our Talking Book Program to persons with visual impairments across the state. It is one of three major formats that we circulate, the other two being recorded books (on cassette, digital cartridge, and downloadable), and large print books. We are very happy to be able to help persons who cannot read standard print to have the joy of experiencing a great literary classic such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as well as the many other thousands of titles we have in the collection.

Also this week at the library we welcomed an old friend who stopped by to work with staff on a project–two old friends in fact. Robert Helfer, who wrote the complex computer program that runs our Talking Book Program circulation system stopped by to advise staff on various aspects of the program which is now being modernized. This is not because the program is inadequate. Far from it. In fact, the TBP circulation system has long been considered a state-of-the-art program with functionality that far exceeds other similar programs. Also, in writing the code, Robert included extensive analysis and explanation of his rationale and the interrelationships between parts of the program, an unusual, but extremely helpful step now. The program is only being replaced now because it is built on a database platform that is aging. The task before us is to revise the code in such a way as to preserve all of Robert’s great functionality, which is no simple task.

Robert was joined in his visit by his wife Lisa deGruyter, also a former TSLAC staff member and, in fact, the person who first hired me at the agency in 1991. Lisa was the first person on the State Library staff to move the agency into Internet services and did groundbreaking work establishing a service called the Texas State Electronic Library back in the mid-1990’s. It was great to have them both back with us for a couple of days.

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