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Open Door
Summer 2006

Open Door
Newsletter of the Library
Iowa Department for the Blind
524 Fourth Street
Des Moines, IA 50309-2364
(515) 281-1333
(800) 362-2587

Beth Hirst, Editor
Karen Keninger, Library Director

Summer 2006
Vol. 6 No. 2
This newsletter is available in large print, on cassette tape, in Braille, and by E-mail. If you wish to receive Open Door in a different medium, please so advise.


Digital Talking Books - How, Why, and When
Digital Books

Digital Talking Books - How, Why, and When

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is making the transition to digital recording. Some of our narrators have begun using a new kind of recorder. It has a hard drive like a computer. The recordings made on these machines can be edited just like word processor files. Mistakes can be cut out and corrections pasted in, and the final product plays seamlessly, as though no errors were ever made. The sound quality is excellent, and even when the recording is transferred to cassette, the improvement over analog cassettes is significant.

Other narrators are reading in our new in-house recording studio. Books and publications produced in the studio have an even higher level of quality. Our goal is that our books will sound as good as, if not better than, the ones you receive from NLS. Our narrators are volunteers, but many of them are as capable as professionals; a few are professional broadcasters, actors, or voice-over artists. Having new, high-quality digital recording equipment will allow them to produce superior materials and to shine like the stars we know they are.

Several of the titles featured in this issue’s book list are locally recorded digital talking books. See if you can hear the difference!

Other than improved sound quality, why are we making this change? You are still receiving these books on cassette. Are we ever going to make books on CD’s?

No, we are looking ahead to the National Library Service’s transition to a whole new kind of player. After years of research, design studies, and testing, NLS is in the final stages of development of the Digital Talking Book Machine (DTBM). Distribution of the new machine will begin in 2008.
What will the DTBM look like? It will be 1/3 the size and less than half the weight of the C-1 cassette player. It will be charcoal gray and will have color-coded keys on the surface. There will be both basic and advanced models.

The digital talking books (DTB’s) will be contained on flash memory cartridges, slightly larger than a credit card, that will plug into the machine. The average 12-hour book will be stored on a single cartridge. The cartridges will be mailed in blue boxes, similar in shape to the familiar green containers, but half as thick. Each container will hold one cartridge.

The DTBM will be extremely simple to use. When the cartridge is inserted, the machine announces the title, author, and location in the book, and then begins playing. If the user removes the cartridge in the middle of the book, the machine “remembers” where to start again. If no book is inserted, the keys will announce their functions when pressed. The advanced player will allow the user to navigate through the book by chapters and sometimes by pages or smaller units, such as recipes.
Both the player and the cartridges will be incredibly durable. The machine has no moving parts to wear out and is expected to last at least ten years without any repair. The cartridges can be used hundreds of times with no appreciable wear and no loss of sound quality.

Because the Iowa Library is beginning to record materials digitally now, we will be ready to switch to the new medium as soon as it becomes available. Our locally produced books will be copied to the same kind of cartridges as the NLS books.

Why is it taking so long? Consider that NLS will be converting its entire 150 million dollar program -- machines, medium, containers, and distribution method -- with the same staff who support the on-going day-to-day work. The planning for the new system began in 1998 with a ten-year timeline projected. Even with 39 separate projects with over 500 steps to accomplish, NLS is exactly on target for the 2008 release of the DTBM. Every library patron will be the beneficiary of the careful research and testing that is still in progress. Mark my words -- CD’s, which are far more easily damaged than we were led to believe, will go the way of the dinosaur, while flash memory cartridges will remain robust for many years to come.

We will maintain the cassette collection and continue to circulate tapes during the transition to DTB’s. We expect that most patrons will choose to keep their cassette players even after receiving a digital machine. Production of cassette books will be phased out; after 2010, no new titles will come out on tape.

The digital revolution is at hand, and we are preparing for tremendous changes. Welcome to the 21st century!


By Randy Landgrebe

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

Those five lines from American poet William Carlos Williams remind us that reading poetry isn’t always easy. It takes work, but they say it’s worth it -- that poetry can change a perspective, or an entire life.

Oh, I hear the laughter and the comments: “Yeah, right, like reading Shakespeare is going to help me through the world.” I once felt the same way. Indeed, I could easily define poetry. “Poetry: foolish, frilly, rhymey-dimey, sissified nonsense.” But one day I stumbled upon some poetry that resonated with me personally.

I read the poets Ted Kooser and Philip Levine who write about farm life, factory workers, and nature in the Midwest. And they changed me, made me think more deeply. Though I have lived in Iowa all of my life, these poems helped me to understand my grandfather’s life in farming, to appreciate more fully my father’s work on an assembly line, and to see more clearly the subtle, simple beauty of the Midwestern people, spirit, and landscape.

When I read Maya Angelou and Yusef Komunyakaa’s poems, I began to understand more about what it means to be a Black woman or man in America. Their poems about life in America’s rural south, its northern cities, and about the joys of community and the ugliness of racism, raised my awareness in ways that no history book or novel ever could.

Reading Komunyakaa’s poems about his tour of duty in Viet Nam brought home to me the camaraderie of all soldiers who fought in an unpopular war. His poem, Facing It, about his visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, is one of the most moving, patriotic poems that I have ever read.

Why not give poetry a try? Discover for yourself whether poetry can be as powerful for you as it has become for me. Try reading one good poem a day and see whether it enriches your life.

Our Library has a wonderful collection of modern and traditional poetry, with styles to fit nearly every taste. Try the hilarious cowboy poetry of Baxter Black or the refined verses of Louise Gluck. You might prefer the plain-spoken poems of Robert Frost or a diverse anthology, such as the recent collection, Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor.

Mark your order form if you would like to receive a selection of poetry. Most titles have a limited number of copies available, so your reader advisor will choose for you from the collection.


2006 marks the 75th birthday of the National Library Service for the Blind. In 1931, Congress passed the Pratt-Smoot Act that initiated the program and directed the Library of Congress to administer it.
At first only Braille materials were circulated, but soon the first talking books were produced. Records made at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute eventually became the industry standard, but did you know that they were first developed for the talking book program? Records playing at 78 rpm contained only 3 to 4 minutes per side, fine for recording songs, but unsatisfactory for spoken materials. A durable record was perfected, recorded at 150 grooves to an inch, so that a book of 60,000 words could be contained on eight or nine double-faced, twelve-inch records. The turntable ran at 33 1/3 rpm, which permitted thirty minutes of reading time on each record. In 1934, talking book record players were made available to blind library patrons.

The enabling legislation for the library service was changed in 1952 to make children eligible, and service to physically handicapped individuals was added in 1966. Many technological changes have been made over the years, from slower recording speeds to 2-track and 4-track cassette books to improved Braille mailing containers. From the original 18 locations in 1931, the network has grown to include 56 regional libraries. The Iowa Library was established in 1960 as the 29th regional. The most recent addition to the network was in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1995.
As we stand on the brink of the digital age, it is a good time to look back and celebrate the birth of this service that enriches the lives of so many.


Each cassette book is opened and examined when it is returned. The books are checked for completeness, for damage, and to see if all tapes have been rewound. We must rewind each cassette that is not rewound completely. You can play an important role in maintaining good quality service by rewinding every cassette when you have finished reading it. PLACE BRAILLE SIDE UP; PUSH REWIND BUTTON.
Placing the tapes in the box in the proper order will also save staff time. Rewinding and correct placement can prevent damage to the tapes while in transit. Your help in caring for the cassettes is a valuable asset and is greatly appreciated.


For many years the Iowa Lions’ Foundation (ILF) has provided the Library with funds to purchase Bibles or sacred texts for our patrons. A number of digitally recorded sacred texts are now available on CD. The King James Version of the Bible, for example, comes on 54 disks, and each disk is protected in a separate pocket in the storage album. The advantage of using these CD’s is that the listener can skip immediately to any chapter within a given disk. It is much easier to find a favorite passage.

Each library patron is eligible to receive one Bible or other sacred text as a gift from the Iowa Lions. We also have several versions available on cassette, in Braille, or in large print. Please call Dawna at 515-281-1294 or 800-362- 2587, and we can talk about the options that are available. You must be a library patron of the Iowa Department for the Blind in order to receive a free Bible or sacred text. Please note that the Library does not provide CD players.


Our Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) has a new web address. If you have the old OPAC on your favorites list, be sure to update your list. The new address is: There are several new features that will improve your browsing and ordering experience. View the updated tutorial to learn how to use the new tools. Questions? Please call your reader advisor.


April 21 was an exciting day at the Department for the Blind. More than 60 volunteers joined staff, students, and guests for the Elizabeth Perowsky Volunteers and Transcribers Workshop. Christie Vilsack, First Lady of Iowa, and Richard Crawford, Sioux City business leader and library patron, were keynote speakers at the luncheon.

Morning and afternoon seminars were held for Braillists and narrators. Braillists met with a users’ panel and discussed the intricacies of Braille production. The panel featured Braille-reading students, employed persons, proofreaders, and educators. Narrators experienced hands-on demonstrations of the new digital recorders and the in-house recording studio.

Christie Vilsack and Library Director Karen Keninger presented transcriber pins and Florence Grannis Service Awards to several well-deserving volunteers. Narrator extraordinaire Anita Sundin received the Perowsky Volunteer of the Year Award. In 27 years of recording, she has completed 190 books and magazines and is still going strong!

The next workshop is planned for April 20, 2007. We appreciate all that our volunteers accomplish for us.


This issue’s featured books, for a change, have no common theme or topic. The first seven titles have been digitally recorded by volunteers who narrate either at home or in our new studio. The remaining books were narrated by the award-winning Anita Sundin. Mark and return your order form to request these cassette books.

Digital Books

RCO14618 Pinon Range, Lauran Paine
For two years, George Wayland faced a rancher’s worst nightmare -- a terrible drought. Just when he thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, a band of free-grazers invaded the area. Tempers flared and guns blazed -- until a man lay dead under the hooves of stampeding cattle.

RCO14619 Golfing with God, Roland Merullo
Hank Fins-Winston, deceased golf pro, is summoned to play a round of golf with God. While Hank tries to give God golfing tips, God gives Hank tips about living. Inspirational fiction.

RCO14607 Wanted!, Caroline B. Cooney
Fifteen-year-old Alice’s father orders her to drive his prize Corvette to meet him at their favorite place, but she doesn’t have her license yet. Once there, Alice hears on the radio that her father has been murdered, and everyone thinks she killed him! Now Alice has to find the real murderer before the police find her. For young adult readers.

RCO14637 The Cubs and theKabbalist: How a Kabbalah-Master
Helped the Chicago Cubs Win Their First World Series Since1908, Byron L. Sherwin
Determined to bring his wife, a Cubs fanatic, out of her own slump, Rabbi Jay Loeb practices a bit of magic based in the ancient Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah to help the perennial underdogs, the Chicago Cubs, win the World Series C and restore his wife’s well-being.

RCO14616 The Lake of Dead Languages, Carol Goodman
Jane Hudson has returned to the Heart Lake School for Girls as the new Latin teacher. Sinister events that echo a tragedy from her own senior year at the school threaten to become a living nightmare for Jane and her young daughter.

RCO14532 A House Called Awful End, Philip Ardagh
When Eddie’s parents catch a disease that makes them turn yellow and smell of old hot-water bottles, it’s agreed he should stay with relatives at their house, Awful End. Unfortunately for Eddie, those relatives are Mad Uncle Jack and Even Madder Aunt Maud. For grades 3-6.

RCO14633 Happy Horsemanship, Dorothy Henderson Pinch
Presents information about horses and how to care for them, as well as the basics of riding -- all told from the horse’s point of view. For grades 3-6. Non-fiction.

Narrated by Anita Sundin

RCO14432 Cardinal Rules, Barbara Delinsky
Determined not to become like her irresponsible and selfish parents, Corinne Fremont is all business, all the time. By contrast, maverick businessman Corey Haraden works and loves with enthusiasm. Corinne intrigues him, so he offers her a job she can’t refuse -- to tempt her. Some descriptions of sex.

RCO14307 Jane Doe, R. J. Kaiser
Abby Hooper has just been made chief of police when the body of an unknown woman washes up on the bank of the river. Her prime suspect is Frank Keegan, the man Abby beat out for the job. Frank can’t remember a thing about the night that Jane Doe was killed.

RCO14485 Looking Back to See: a Country Music Memoir, Maxine Brown
Autobiography of a member of the Browns, a country music trio popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Browns consisted of Maxine, her brother Jim Ed and sister Bonnie. One of the opening acts they hired was a young Elvis Presley.

RCO13930 Fast Forward, Judy Mercer
A woman wakes up in a torn-apart house, wearing bloody clothes, with no idea who she is. Learning she is Ariel Gold, she attempts to hide what must be amnesia while she searches for clues to what happened.

RCO14622 Alpine for you, Maddy Hunter
Emily Andrew accompanies her grandmother on a seniors tour of Switzerland. Her peaceful vacation from Iowa is shattered when tour escort Andy Simon is murdered. Emily becomes the temporary replacement for Andy and, with the help of her grandmother, sets out to solve the mystery of Andy’s death. Emily and Nana battle bad weather, bad food, a tour bus full of crazy seniors, two more corpses, and a resourceful murderer, not to mention a mountain of bad puns!

RCO13597 Her Scandalous Intentions, Sari Robins
Political intrigue, spies, traitors, kidnaping, a false betrothal, and frothy romance abound in the time of Napoleon. James and Charlotte initially suspect each other, then join forces to ferret out the real villain.

RCO13574 Titanic: The Long Night, Diane Hoh
Everyone thinks the R.M.S. Titanic could never sink, but when it strikes a huge iceberg on April 14, 1912, the helpless passengers find out they were wrong. Amidst biting cold, churning black waters, tilting lifeboats, and pathetic screams, more than fifteen hundred will die on that disastrous night. Will Elizabeth, Max, Brian, Patrick and Kathleen survive? Historical fiction for grades 6-9.


Toll-Free  800-362-2587
FAX   515-281-1378
TTY  515-281-1355

Reader's Advisors - If your name begins with:
A - G Cindy 281-1368
H - O Susie 281-1325
P - Z Lynne 281-1348

Applications for service Cindy 281-1248 or Marilyn 242-5772
Machine questions  Pat 281-1349
Tape Production Beth 281-1280
Braille Production Laura 281-1271
Descriptive Videos Marcella 281-1276

Instructional Materials:
A - L Gail 281-1296
M - Z Carol 281-1285

This newsletter is printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink. The Iowa Department for the Blind is committed to preserving the environment and to reducing waste.

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OPEN DOOR is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.