Site Meter


Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
All Rights Reserved

Inside my Brain

email me

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Did you know that Julia Roberts used a safety pin to zip up her boots in the movie “Pretty Woman”? This subtle detail is lost on many sighted viewers, but many people with visual impairments or even blindness are able to pick up on often overlooked background elements when they watch descriptive videos. Descriptive videos are audibly enhanced movies and documentaries for those who have imperfect vision – and one of the special collections provided by the Brevard County Talking Books Library.

The Brevard County Talking Books Library is located at 308 Forrest Avenue in Cocoa, and serves over 1600 Brevard County residents as well as citizens throughout the state, as part of the Florida Talking Books Library Network, which includes the Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services, in Daytona Beach, and eleven Subregional libraries. Kay Briley has been the Talking Books Librarian since 1989, and takes pride in serving the blind and physically handicapped citizens of our county.

Originally established by Congress in 1931, the Talking Books program provides books and magazines on cassette tapes as well as the equipment needed to play them. Braille, while not housed in the Brevard County Talking Books Library, is available to readers through the Bureau. Locally, the Talking Books program has become an integral part of the overall service provided by the Brevard County Libraries.

The program is available to anyone who is unable to see conventional print clearly and comfortably for a reasonable length of time, or who cannot hold a book, turn pages, or focus because of muscle or nerve deterioration or paralysis. The physical condition qualifying a person for this service may also be temporary, as when recuperating from eye surgery or from an accident.

Equipment and books are mailed to and from the user’s home, postage free, and there is no time limit. Mailing cards and containers come with each item for easy patron return. Catalogs in large print and on cassette are periodically mailed to patrons of the program. Borrowers may choose from best sellers, Westerns, mysteries, romances, classic novels, juvenile books, biographies, and other non-fiction titles. There are also over 100 magazines available as well as music scores. The Talking Books Library echoes the commitment of the Brevard County Libraries to provide service to all county residents.

Speaking at schools, churches, AARP, health fairs, senior festivals, and childcare associations, the staff of the Talking Books Library discover patrons through an intensive outreach program. The Talking Books Library gets referrals from physicians, optometrists, and osteopaths, and Briley is always eager and wiling to speak to any group who is interested. Children are especially interested in the programs offered and pay more attention to the video about the guide dogs than many would expect. A recent presentation at Audubon Elementary school, in Merritt Island, generated several thank you letters and drawings from a 4th grade class. One young boy pleaded with Librarian Kay Briley, “Come back and bring all your stuff!”

The Talking Books Library is very proud of their Braille picture books for children, which are produced locally. The stories are in Braille, but the colorful pictures make it possible for parents or children to read aloud and share the pictures with the sighted members of their families.

Briley said that through her work as Talking Books librarian, she has learned how similar people are, “We are all the same, but some of us have different disabilities.”

She knows that there is more to reading than sight, “and losing sight does not mean a person has to lose his or her independence nor the love for books, they only need to learn to make adjustments.”

Briley fondly recalled the day she met a man who was suffering from a sudden loss of sight. When his wife brought him into the Talking Books Library, he was despondent and felt that the rest of his life would be spent sitting alone in a chair. Briley tried in vain to cajole, plead, and even tease the man to get him to lighten his mood. Finally, she demanded, “Tomorrow morning, the Leisures of the Blind are going on a trip and I will be joining them. I expect to see you on that bus!” He didn’t disappoint her. Today, his family reports that they can barely keep up with his active lifestyle. Ms. Briley does whatever it takes to help her patrons realize that “the loss of sight is not the loss of their quality of life –it merely changes the dynamics.”

Many people have other issues with independence and are unable to read due to physical or literacy limitations. Macular degeneration slowly steals sight from some, while others are blinded suddenly during accidents or may have dyslexia. Eligibility for Talking Books must be certified by a doctor, nurse, optometrist, social workers, counselor, teacher, librarian or other qualified person.

All materials are mailed as free matter for the blind and handicapped, to and from patrons, or may be picked up and dropped off at the Central Brevard Library and Reference Center in Cocoa. They may also be dropped off at any of the seventeen public libraries located throughout the county. Patrons receive catalogs twice a month offering the latest titles available. The catalogs may be requested in large print or on cassette. An annual compilation for the previous year is also mailed to each patron in the format of their choice.

Briley said passionately, “Outreach is definitely my niche in library services. I have always felt that serving those who could not visit their local libraries was service at its best. I truly love my job. This program changes and enhances so many lives – it is incredibly rewarding to be a part of that process.”

She was only 16 years old when she began working in libraries, processing books. During, her senior year in high school, there were not enough librarians, and she was hired by her school to become theirs. Born in Iowa, she spent her childhood in Montana and came to Brevard County as a teenager in 1959. She has been helping citizens of Brevard with their reading and other needs since then.

Talking Books is a resource for whatever the patrons may need. Briley is dedicated to helping everyone realize a better quality of life. Her passion is contagious and infectious. People can’t help leaving her feeling better. She is especially adamant about helping people in Hospice care. ” People placed in hospice get priority one treatment. Their lives should be filled with the things that make their last days more enjoyable, and if this includes Talking Books or Descriptive Videos, I will do what I can to ensure that they have them available.”

The Talking Books Library relies on the dedication and time of volunteers, all busy people, who when not working at the Talking Books Library, may be difficult to find at home. Some volunteers are stay-at-home mothers, while others are retirees, such as Cocoa resident Harold Newsome, who, according to Briley, “has a really great outlook on life.”

Newsome is one of the Telecom Pioneers, a group of retirees from telephone companies, who spend four hours at the Talking Books Library every Tuesday cleaning and repairing the cassette players. Briley said, “If not for the Telecom Pioneers, these machines may have to be sent away, at taxpayer expense, for costly repairs.”

Mr. Newsome is a recent retiree from Bellsouth where he was involved in community relations as a natural part of his position as a manager. He has always been involved in various forms of volunteer work, in addition to his work with the Telecom Pioneers. He says that his “Volunteering is, like anything else; It’s what you put in it.”

He enjoys working with the Telecom Pioneers gathering Toys for Tots, in the Brevard Sharing Center, getting heart shaped pillows to heart surgery patients, or just cleaning dust and gunk out of Talking Books Cassette players. Some of the Pioneers were his co-workers at Bellsouth, and others relocated to Brevard County from other states.

Mr. Newsome, who was born in Virginia, moved to Cocoa in 1968, after living several years in California. Since retiring, two years ago, he says, “Every day is Saturday,” but he does not plan to sit around quietly. This 62 year old pours his very heart into every action he takes, including his commitment to keeping the equipment used by patrons of the Talking Books Library fully operational and easy to use. He and the other Telecom Pioneers arrive at the Library every Tuesday morning at 8am and work diligently until just before noon. They all seem to know instinctively just what needs to be done and they set about the task effortlessly. Librarian Briley said, “I’d be lost without them.”

81 year old Virginia Dyer is also a Telecom Pioneer, and has worked with the Talking Books Library for more than ten years. A resident of North Cocoa, she feels, “I am doing something that helps somebody that really needs help,” and is an avid reader, herself. She moved to Brevard County 45 years ago, and as a former Virginia resident, feels she and Mr. Newsome share not only a love for helping others through their volunteer work, but a strange appetite for Sweet potato pie.

She was unhappy when hurricane repairs to the library held up the Pioneer’s efforts to keep the Talking Books equipment maintenance caught up. She said that in early March, the repairs were caught up, but with people going on vacations, during the summer, she worries that they may fall behind again

Mrs. Dyer is affectionately called the “Sergeant Major” and a “bulldog” by the other Telecom Pioneers. She keeps an accurate record of attendance and how many hours each member works, not only on the Talking Books project, but their more than half dozen other volunteer projects.

She estimates that the Pioneers repair between 18-28 machines each week. The repairs can run from simply changing out the batteries, to removing what is known as “gummy bears” inside the machine, caused when the machines overheat and melt the wire insulation. Sometimes, machines need to be junked after taking out usable parts which will later repair other machines.

One of the strangest repair stories she shared was about a cassette player that was sent to the Telecom Pioneers, after “it looked like it had been set on top of a stove and cooked.” The entire casing had melted and most of the components inside were ruined. When a new volunteer arrived shortly after they received this machine, she teased him by telling him that if he could repair that one, he would be allowed to work with them.

“I really enjoy the work and love the people I work with.”

She said of Harold Newsome, “I am so glad he joined us. He is a great guy. He brings a spark to the group.”

She also told a story of when a Talking Books cassette player was being mailed through the Tavares Post Office. The x-ray machine detected the wires inside, and despite the label on the outside of the package which clearly marked it as “Free Matter for the Blind”, the bomb squad was called in to detonate the package. To their mutual embarrassment, after the player was blown to bits, they realized their mistake. She feels certain, that now, the postal employees know to expect this type of parcel, and won’t be blowing up any more government property.

Librarian Kay Briley believes that the Talking Books volunteers share her theory that “what you can do for others can make you so much better.”

She said of the Pioneers,” If they don’t get the job done, they know that someone who can’t read won’t be able to enjoy their Talking Books. They are dedicated to keeping this equipment running properly. They are a close knit group, united by a common goal.”

The Talking Books Library is, according to Community Relations Manager, Mary Ann Alderman, “Part of the library’s effort to provide access for all.” With over 37,000 books and more than 300 videos, radio shows, and other media in the local library, the Talking Books Library is just one of the many services provided by the Brevard County Libraries.

For more information, please call Kay Briley in the Brevard County Talking Books Library, at 633-1810.