NLS Operations Alert 15-54


DATE     :               June 19, 2015

TO          :               Network Libraries

FROM   :               Steve Prine, Assistant Chief, Network Division

Subject :               Network Library of the Year Awards


Two Michigan Libraries Honored

Awards Presented for Exemplary Service to Blind and Disabled Readers


The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress, today presented awards to two Michigan libraries, in Lansing and Washtenaw County, for outstanding service to readers who are visually or physically disabled.


The Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library in Lansing received the Network Library of the Year Award. The annual award, in its 12th year, carries a $1,000 cash prize.


The Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled at the Ann Arbor District Library, a subregional library of the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library, received the Network Subregional Library of the Year Award. The annual award, in its ninth year, carries a $1,000 cash prize.


NLS presented the awards at a luncheon ceremony today in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


NLS Director Karen Keninger said, "Today we commend the Michigan and Washtenaw libraries for their exceptional creativity and responsiveness in removing barriers to reading for people who are blind or are unable to use print materials."


In 2014, the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library in Lansing served 11,442 individuals and 500 institutions and organizations, circulating 607,856 braille and talking books and other materials. Eleven full-time employees and an equal number of part-time students staff the library.


"The Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library (MBTBL) is proud to receive this award and sees it as the culmination of our year of positive change in 2014. Staff diligence, dedication and collaboration surfaced repeatedly as the library took on what seemed like insurmountable challenges," said Sue Chinault, manager of the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library. "Even as we reorganized, we were able to take advantage of opportunities to create services that are stronger and more sustainable for the future."


Rebecca Swain, a 30-year patron of the library from Haslett, says MBTBL "is everything I could want in a library."


Despite a statewide reorganization of libraries that serve people who are blind, the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library managed to achieve new heights in patron satisfaction and quality of service in 2014. The reorganization allowed Michigan to centralize the circulation of braille and talking books for its subscriber population and to realize efficiencies that improved service across the state. The library tripled its attendance at outreach events, the number of public library demonstration sites grew by 86 percent, and participation in the library’s summer-reading program increased more than 300 percent.


During the transition, the Michigan library’s Consumer Involvement Committee made a strategic decision to expand subscriber involvement, by offering both online and telephone opportunities for patrons to voice their questions and concerns about the braille and talking-book program. This open forum gives library patrons unprecedented access and ability to influence those making decisions about the future of the library.


Also in 2014, the Michigan library established a download agreement with the library for the blind in Helsinki, Finland, giving the large Finnish-speaking population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula access to thousands of Finnish titles.


In 2014, the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled at the Ann Arbor District Library (WLBPD@AADL) served approximately 500 patrons and circulated talking books and magazines on 15,949 digital cartridges.


"Under WLBPD@AADL’s unique service model, all public services staff of the Ann Arbor District Library (approximately 175 full-time and part-time staff) are trained and available to provide WLBPD services," said Terry Soave, Washtenaw manager of Outreach and Neighborhood Services. "This model ensures that anybody seeking the services of the WLBPD@AADL may be accommodated at any of AADL’s five locations, during all hours of operation (74 hours per week), either in-person, by phone, or by e-mail, and in a timely, professional, and customer-service-centered manner."


"We are all so excited to receive this award," said Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) Director Josie Parker. "Since 2009, we have provided all AADL public service staff with the training and support to serve people who are blind or have a print disability. This has allowed us to expand the service to all of our locations. The result has been increased use of the program and a very high satisfaction rate from consumers. This new service model created a culture of inclusivity that has resonated with staff and consumers."


The Washtenaw library’s model of expanded service through partnership has won rave reviews from its patrons. In a patron survey that elicited a 30 percent response, 94 percent of respondents rated the Washtenaw’s library services as excellent or good and 97 percent said they would recommend the service to someone they knew.


Washtenaw patron Darlene Beardsley said, "My life wouldn’t be worth living without the library. I was in a nursing home battling depression, and receiving humor books saved the day. I can’t say enough good things about the library."


All eight of the public libraries in AADL’s service area serve as demonstration sites for patrons who might be eligible for the braille and talking-book program. Stickers promoting the talking-book service were placed in the public libraries’ large-print collections. In addition, AADL partners with the University of Michigan’s School of Information to ensure that students learning about accessible technology are aware of the braille and talking-book services.


In addition to providing a greater platform for promoting talking-book services, this subregional library hosted nine events in 2014 to inform and assist the local community. The American Printing House for the Blind traveling exhibit, "Child in a Strange Country: Helen Keller and the History of Education for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired," drew more than 5,000 visitors to the Washtenaw library.


NLS created the Network Library Awards to recognize outstanding accomplishments of libraries serving people with visual and physical challenges across the country and in U.S. territories. A committee of librarians and consumer-organization representatives chooses finalists from among the nominated libraries based on mission support (defined by the "American Library Association Revised Standards and Guidelines for Service"), creativity and innovation in providing service, and record of reader satisfaction. The four NLS network regional conference chairpersons recommend the final selections to the NLS director.


NLS administers the braille and talking-book program, a free library service available to U.S. residents and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or disability makes reading a regular printed page difficult. Through its national network of libraries, NLS mails books and magazines in audio and braille formats, as well as digital audio equipment, directly to enrollees at no cost. Music instructional materials are available in large print, e-braille, braille, and recorded formats. Selected materials are also available online for download, and are accessible through smartphones. For more information, visit or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).


The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 160 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


For more information contact:

Steve Prine,

Assistant Chief, Network Division

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