Reading is one of life’s great pleasures and for a lot of people, retirement means more time to read. But for some older readers, vision loss or other health issues can limit the ability to read a physical book.
Before starting library school, I was vaguely aware of the options for readers with visual limitations. But four-plus years into my day job as a public librarian, I no longer worry about being cut off from the world of reading as I get older.
At my branch – the brand new Good Hope Library on 77th and Good Hope Road, we have several shelves worth of Large Print and audio books. And we’re not unique. Whether you’re reading this in greater Milwaukee, central Wisconsin or another part of North America, it’s the same. You can walk into any open library and – depending on the current policies given the COVID-19 pandemic – browse the shelves yourself, request specific titles or let a librarian choose something that’s tailored to your preferences. Curbside pickup is also an option at most libraries.
And while we’re on the topic of options, let’s talk about e-books. The idea entered the zeitgeist in the 1930s, when Robert Brown wrote a manifesto called “The Readies,” (pronounced “ree-dees”). In it, he advocated for “a simple reading machine which I can carry or move around, attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred-thousand-word novels in 10 minutes if I want to, and I want to.”
It took until 2007, when Amazon released its first Kindle e-reader, to realize Brown’s vision. But today it’s possible to read a hundred-thousand-word novel on a Kindle, a tablet, a desktop computer or even a phone. (Why anyone would want to read a novel in 10 minutes is not a topic I will address.) The Milwaukee County Federated Library System uses Libby by Overdrive as its e-book platform. Readers can download e-books in print or audio formats to their preferred device. Users can often enlarge text, to make it easier to read. Once the borrowing period is over, the material simply evaporates.
For readers whose vision or motor skills make it a challenge to read print or turn pages, there’s the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library. My mother (z”l), had Parkinson’s disease and took advantage of WTTBL when she lived at the Ovation Jewish Home. She received a special player and was able to order books on a monthly basis that came through the mail at no cost.
My colleague Katie Saldutte, WTTBL’s outreach librarian, described the application process.
“We don’t have a real strict standard,” she said. “If you have a doctor or other professional who can verify that you have trouble reading standard print, you can get signed up.”
The “other professional” can be a social worker, librarian or other community worker. Once signed up, WTTBL users aren’t excluded from continuing to borrow books from the regular collection.
“We have people who use the service and who also go to the library and get large print books,” she said. “Their eyes get tired, or they have some sight and can use them.”
Saldutte said WTTBL also works with Audio Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE), a service that records new books and books that are specifically requested, if a need is established. For titles that may be more obscure or esoteric, she said, patrons can purchase a print copy and ABLE will record it at no cost.
For more information on WTBBL, go to http://www.mpl.org/library/accessibility_services/wtbbl.php; to download Libby go to http://countycat.mcfls.org/screens/overdrive.html
Or call your local reference librarian. We like to help!