For most people, reading a book or magazine is an easy activity, but for those who are visually impaired or physically limited, reading can be an impossible task.
Thanks to the Arizona Talking Book Library, state residents with low vision or the inability to hold or handle a print book can have access to audio books, magazines, newspapers and other library resources, including Braille books. Despite all these services, awareness of the program is not widespread.
Stu Turgel, a host on Radio Phoenix and former president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, volunteers for Arizona Talking Book Library as an outreach representative. He goes to health fairs, assisted-living facilities, association meetings and other gatherings to spread the word about the library.
“A lot of people just don’t know that it exists,” he said.
Turgel first learned about the Talking Book Library when his late father, an avid reader, used the service after experiencing diminishing eyesight near the end of his life.
When Turgel lived in Denver in the early ’80s, he volunteered as a reader for what is now the Colorado Talking Book Library.
“In those days, they were using cassettes,” he said. “Today everything is digital and the machines are amazing.”
Under the auspices of the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, Arizona Talking Book Library currently serves about 12,000 people and 3,000 organizations statewide, according to Christine Tuttle, outreach librarian for the organization.
“If they can get mail, they can get our services,” she said.
Audio books are also available for downloading on Android and IOS devices.
As part of a national network coordinated through the National Library Service and the Library of Congress, Arizona Talking Book Library gets about 99 percent of its books through the federal government, Tuttle said.
“We also have our own collection for Arizona,” she added.
To use Arizona Talking Book Library, potential patrons must fill out an application for services and then have it signed by their physician, other health provider or any librarian throughout the state. After the application is submitted, each patron is assigned a personal librarian who will call and conduct an interest interview.
“Think of us like a book sommelier,” Tuttle said.
Once the interview is completed, the librarian will issue a digital player and headphones, if requested, and start the patron with two books.
After a month, the librarian will call to see how the patron is doing with the books.
“If they’ve started listening, they’re usually hooked by the end of the month,” Tuttle said. “We offer everything from children’s books to last year’s bestseller list.”
Also available are magazines, newspapers and movies with audio descriptions. All services are free and there are no overdue fees.
“We have people who read two books a day and people who read two books a month and everything in between,” Tuttle said.
Most books are narrated by professionals or the authors themselves. In Arizona, as in most states, material of local interest is recorded locally, including community newspapers, local magazines, organization newsletters and voter information.
Local readers don’t have to be professionals. Arizona Talking Book Library has a wide array of reading volunteers from homemakers to bookkeepers to retired Arizona State University professors, Tuttle said.
But volunteering to be a narrator requires a hefty time commitment.
“We’re asking for two years of guaranteed service,” Tuttle said.
During the first year, volunteers review and edit a book to become familiar with the process. After that, they can interview to be a reader and provide samples of their work, which is peer reviewed by patron volunteers. Readers must have perfect diction and proper inflection and the ability to keep characters’ voices uniform throughout, Tuttle said.
If a narrator clears that hurdle, he or she is teamed up with a director and given a book to review for two weeks. The narrator must master foreign pronunciations, acronyms and difficult phrases so that when read, the prose is seamless. Then the team has a two-hour recording session every week for nine months.
In addition to being a narrator, there are volunteer opportunities aplenty at Arizona Talking Book Library, including recording studio directors, reviewers and editors, as well as digital machine repair specialists, outreach volunteers and library aides.
Through Turgel’s volunteer work with Arizona Talking Book Library, he’s encountered thousands of people who bemoan how much they miss reading due to diminishing eyesight or physical disability. Turgel gives them a ray of hope when he tells them they can still experience the joy of reading, just in a different format.
“I’ve watched them get great enjoyment out of it,” he said. “They love it.” JN
For more information, call 602-255-5578 or visit azlibrary.gov/talkingbooks.