Volunteers make the difference in the California State Library's Braille and Talking Book Library

“Without our volunteers,” Marian Broom, supervisor and volunteer coordinator at the California State Library (CSL) Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL) says, “we couldn’t serve 14,000 customers with special needs.” Throughout the year Broom reminds BTBL’s more than 50 volunteers that their work in three crucial BTBL programs -recording books, inspecting talking books, and cleaning and repairing the machines that play those talking books - “makes a difference in people’s lives.”

The recording program at the BTBL is particularly popular with BTBL volunteers. Pam Ryan, librarian and volunteer coordinator for the recording program, says that many of the people who seek her out have had a family member use the CSL service and are eager to record texts for the library that has served their loved ones so well.

It’s a big gift: the BTBL recording program has intensive requirements. Though most of BTBL’s talking books are recorded at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress, BTBL recording volunteers record books of specific interest to Californians including local fiction, history, poetry, and short stories. To do the job well, recording volunteers in Sacramento must be well read, linguistically articulate, inquisitive, not afraid of criticism, and teachable. Further, the recording volunteer (and the monitor and reviewer who guarantee accuracy) must be willing to devote a year to one recording project.

Talking book inspection is crucial at BTBL. If not for the inspection volunteers, talking book cassettes might not be rewound or end up in the wrong box – a confusing impediment for the next visually impaired borrower. Inspection volunteers come to BTBL from diverse backgrounds. Some are participants from alternative sentencing programs, some are students looking for a community service opportunity, some are from programs for the disabled, and some are ordinary citizens who want to give back to the community.

Mary is an inspection volunteer who arrives at BTBL face down on a gurney. She has use of her hands, however, and is able to open the green talking book box to examine the contents. John used to volunteer as part of the alternative sentencing program and now comes in because he admires the service. Susan’s mother benefited from the service for many years and now she is returning the favor. (These names are fictitious.)

In order to “read” BTBL’s talking books, users need a special cassette player. When customers return these machines to the library, someone needs to clean and repair them. It’s a process that engages a chain of volunteers throughout northern California. Charlie Johnson, Office Machine Service Technician and volunteer coordinator for the cleaning and inspection program, sends the machines off to the Volunteers of Vacaville at the California Medical Facility for cleaning. When all the dirt and bugs have been removed, the machines are inspected for damage and then repaired by the Telephone Pioneers (a volunteer group of retired SBC employees) in Oakland, Mill Valley, and Auburn. About 500 machines are returned to BTBL monthly, so there is always plenty of work for these busy volunteers.

All volunteers who participate in BTBL programs are recognized several times a year with barbeques, picnics, parties, or even cruises down the Sacramento River. The California State Library Foundation generously covers the cost of these events. When a person volunteers 1000 hours to the library, his or her name is added to a plaque on the wall on which there are now 30 names, ranging from 1000 to 16,000 hours. The staff at BTBL offers its sincere thanks and gratitude to the volunteers for making their jobs easier but they recognize that the biggest beneficiaries are the customers who use the service.

For more information about the BTBL volunteer programs, contact Aimee Sgourakis at 916-657-3894 or asgourakis@library.ca.gov.



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