Friday, October 07, 2005

Talking books

Some time ago I had an email from a lady at the National Library Service of the (American) Library of Congress. She asked me to publicise the Talking Books program, and this, albeit belatedly, I am pleased to do.

Basically, the Talking Books program makes available, free of charge, recordings of books so that they can be enjoyed by anyone who is blind, or so physically handicapped that they cannot read books in the ordinary way. This service is much appreciated by those who use it, to the extent that they 'read' some 35 books a year, compared with the average sighted person's 5 a year.

Surprisingly (to me) there are 150,000 former US servicemen and women who are blind, and providing books for these veterans is one of the NLS's core tasks. And some of the most avid participants in the scheme are over 100 years old.

Talking Books is run largely by volunteer power, so there are plenty of opportunities for seniors and others who wish to make a difference. And not the least benefit of this service, of course, is that it takes some of the burden off those who care for blind and disabled people. Moral: if you know anyone who might benefit from this service, please draw it to their attention. Full details can be found on the NLS web site.

A similar sort of organisation exists in the UK, though it is not, so far as I am aware, government-sponsored. It is called Calibre, and again it distributes recordings of books to blind people without charge. They too have a web site for those wishing to know more.

Nearly thirty years ago I gave permission for one of my own books to be recorded for a similar service (though I don't think it was Calibre), and I did once meet an old man who had 'read' it in that way. He left me in no doubt that the facility to listen to books meant a great deal to him.

Calibre, being a charity, depends on writers and publishers allowing them to make recordings without expecting any remuneration. They tend (I think) to go for popular fiction rather than highbrow stuff, and five years ago they asked permission to record another of my books, a family saga. Recordings are made by professional actors, who get no fee, doing the job in their own homes rather than a studio.

This too deserves your support.

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