with new Braille and Talking Book Library Head, Mike Marlin
California State Library’s Braille and Talking Book Library, a
regional library for the Library of Congress’ National
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped,
serves customers in the northern part of the state. As of October 1,
2007, the Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL) welcomed a new
manager, Mike Marlin. Marlin works closely with BTBL customers, and
the community agencies serving those customers, to develop the
California State Library’s services for those who are unable to read
standard print library materials.
receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Brown
University in 1987, you earned a Masters in Library and Information Science
from the University of Washington in
1992. What prompted you to move into professional librarianship?
always used libraries. As a kid, I even hung out in them when my classmates
were playing football or skateboarding. I was fortunate to grow up in
Washington, D.C. which boasts a plethora of rich library collections. I
conducted research for high school papers at Georgetown University Library,
the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the Martin Luther King main
branch of the D.C. Public Library. I felt at home surrounded by books.
left Brown University with a head full of deconstruction and meta-linguistics
theory and a BA in Semiotics and Communications, I embarked on a community
broadcasting career while most of my contemporaries pursued the art of
subliminal advertising (and greenback accumulation) on Madison Avenue.
the competitive Seattle media market in 1990, I faced the prospect of working
as an overnight radio board operator or finding another vocation. I remembered
the encouragement of a head librarian I knew during a summer circulation
assistant library job I had held years before and reflected on the umpteen
enjoyable hours I spent cataloging and classifying recordings in FM radio
libraries: the MLS was my natural next professional step.
know your ability to see is significantly impaired. Has it always been so?
always walked between sighted and unsighted worlds with differing degrees, as
my blindness follows a path of gradual degeneration. When I began studying for
my MLS, I could still read print even though Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary
form of blindness, had forced me to stop driving years before. Using an
increasing array of accessibility aids, I was able to work in a series of
fascinating library jobs including the Bastyr College of Naturopathic
Medicine, the U.S. National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency,
and URS Consultants, an environmental engineering firm. I gravitated through
visual aids such as hand-held magnifiers, lighted telescopes, jeweler’s
glasses, closed captioned television monitors (CCTV), and screen magnifier
visual editing skills foundered while working on a music magazine I had
co-founded, I embarked upon a new trajectory – learning Braille. I also
investigated screen reading software and optical character recognition
scanners. When I was no longer able to read print at all, the Washington State
Vocational Rehabilitation office helped equip my job and home with more
sophisticated accessible technology I needed to function efficiently.
most recently worked as program coordinator and special needs librarian in Tucson’s
Pima County Public Library where you developed literacy, environmental,
music, and financial education programs for teens and adults. Can you tell us
about a couple of these programs? Do you think they would work well at the
California State Library?
At the Seattle
Public Library I had organized low vision fairs and children’s programs
and I brought similar educational and entertaining programs to Tucson
residents. I put together a rock concert featuring Harry and the Potters (a
wizard rock band that tested the ear canals of fellow library staffers) to
draw middle and high school readers to the library, and I was a gun-totin’,
cigar chompin’ librarian on the horse-drawn library wagon in the Tucson
talking books events are near and dear to my heart, I know programs about
audio books and the art of narration would inspire Braille and Talking Book
library staff, customers, and the CSL in general. In Tucson, I arranged for Scott
Brick, a well-known audio book narrator who has recorded over 300 books,
to do a presentation for the community and it was a huge hit.
Connection: We hear a lot about the “digital age” when it comes to
libraries. What does “digital age” mean for the California State Library’s
BTBL? How do you see BTBL using new technologies?
customers use and appreciate blogs and wikis, their focus right now is on the
future of digital books and the technology surrounding them. When the National
Library Service implements its flash memory digital books and digital
players in 2008 a new reality will set in for nearly a million print disabled
readers. BTBL will be digitizing its recording studios sometime in 2008 and
this will mean a huge learning curve for our staff and volunteer narrators.
Meanwhile there is already a burgeoning commercial digital book
business with services such as Bookshare, Recordings for the Blind and
Dyslexic, Overdrive, Net Library, audible.com, and noncommercial endeavors
like the Gutenberg Project.
BTBL's outreach mission is to inform our customers about all these options as
we become a hub for the E-book (digitized text files which are
listenable and convertible to Braille or large print) and the audio book
into the Future: An Overview of the National Library Service's Digital Talking
Book Test Program” is great article from AFB Access World about a
possible digital future for BTBL. Your readers can check it out here: http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw080604
Connection: Is Braille a thing of the past then?
While it is
true there are fewer Braille book readers among our customers due to the
proliferation of audio books, I hesitate to say Braille is a dying art form.
Thanks to electronic media, Braille is now computerized, making it easy to
convert files into Braille via an embosser and providing web Braille books to
clients with refreshable Braille displays. People can store digitized Braille
files for embossing their books, manuals, newsletters, and more which cuts
down on Braille collection shelving. There are Braille transcription societies
all over the U.S. and worldwide. Thousands of children learn Braille every
year independently and through various state schools for the blind. Braille is
a language and an incredible tool for finding one's way around. I've put
Braille labels on my music collection, files, dishwasher, microwave, washing
machine, wife (just kidding), and I know I'm not alone!
Connection: The California State Library is actively recruiting library
professionals like you! Will you share with our readers your experience moving
to Sacramento from Tucson? How is working and living in California’s capital
different from working and living in a smaller town?
I lived in
Seattle for 15 years before moving to the Southwest, so I'm used to the big
city! What I miss most about the desert is the intense quiet - you can leave
the outskirts of Tucson and stand on a boulder and hear absolutely nothing but
the rustle of a cactus wren. Also, work life is far more casual in the Old
Pueblo (but folks work just as hard!) I am glad, though, to be back in an
urban setting with a vibrant cultural scene and decent public transportation.
because Sacramento has great restaurants and a substantial music scene that
spans multiple genres. I am a lover of ethnic foods and am an amateur musician
with extremely eclectic tastes. Who could ask for more than all
that and a variety of interesting libraries and beautiful outdoor
settings! I look forward to exploring the history, terrain, and culture of
contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (916) 651-0182.