Carnegie Library to run Pa.'s cassette program for blind

To save money, Philadelphia library ships collection here

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The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is now the sole operator of the state program providing books on audiocassette for the visually impaired across Pennsylvania.

The cassettes and their distribution had been divided between the Philadelphia Free Library and the Carnegie, each of which maintains its own Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

But in recent weeks, Philadelphia has transferred its entire audiocassette collection to Pittsburgh, nearly doubling the number of recorded books at the LBPH on Baum Boulevard.

The transfer was mandated as a money-saving measure by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Libraries, a division of the Department of Education, as part of the Corbett administration's drive to make services more cost-efficient in an era of budget cuts.

The change means that patrons of the Philadelphia Regional LBPH can no longer borrow audiocassettes in person, but have to receive them by U.S. mail from the other end of the state. Shipping is free but can take up to a week.

Before the transfer, Pittsburgh LBPH had 508,000 audiocassette versions of 73,000 titles, plus digital versions -- all the current audio titles made available by the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The transfer adds most of the 450,000 audiocassettes from Philadelphia, said Suzanne Thinnes, spokeswoman for Carnegie Library, depending on how many are in working order. She added that services should not be disrupted by the realignment.

The libraries are used not only by the blind, but also elderly people, war veterans and others with injuries that limit reading.

"Carnegie Library has a long history of providing timely, excellent and reliable assistance to those who qualify for LBPH services," said its president, Mary Frances Cooper. "We remain committed to working with our colleagues throughout the state to provide the best possible library experience for all residents."

The change means Pittsburgh LBPH will be serving another 10,000 to 13,000 readers from the eastern part of the state, in addition to more than 8,000 readers in Western Pennsylvania. To handle the extra work, Carnegie Library will hire and train three more reader advisors, two stock handlers and a clerical worker.

By contrast, the realignment means job cuts in Philadelphia, where officials have said they would be eliminating 15 to 30 jobs.

Combined, the two libraries for the blind were budgeted at $2.7 million in the current fiscal year, split 60/40 between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The proposed budget for 2012-13 is 5 percent less, or $2,567,000, but the percentages are flipped to cover the added services in Pittsburgh.

The Philadelphia library will continue to handle Braille book services statewide. Both ends of the state still will offer large-print books and described videos, and both will maintain walk-in service, including downloading digitally recorded books on demand.

Philadelphia users upset by the decision to transfer the audiocassette collection tried unsuccessfully to stop or delay the move. In February, they held a protest rally outside the main branch of the Free Library, where critics said the change would make borrowing harder without saving money.

But Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education, disputed the criticism. He said the Philadelphia library was spending $500,000 a year to rent storage space for the audiocassettes. The Carnegie Library, on the other hand, owns its building, which has plenty of room to house the additional cassettes.

The realignment also is intended to refocus Philadelphia's attention on outreach efforts to all 67 counties, Mr. Eller said, because statewide participation in the program is so low. Some 160,000 residents qualify for library services for the blind, but only 11 percent -- 19,000 -- take advantage of it. Once relieved of cassette distribution, he said, Philadelphia will be able to concentrate on contacting local libraries, associations for the blind and groups that work with physically handicapped people to encourage usage.

Ms. Thinnes said that patrons can expedite shipping time for audiocassettes as follows:

• Keep a request list on file with the library through print, audio and online browsing-and-ordering tools, including a phone-activated ordering system for those without access to a computer or the Internet.

• Call ahead to request books by title, author and subject. The toll free number is 1-800-242-0586.

• Request "send-return" service -- for every title returned, a replacement is chosen and sent from the request list and/or based on reading preferences.

• Call the library any time during business hours to discuss reading needs with trained reader advisors.

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Sally Kalson: or 412-263-1610. First Published May 14, 2012 12:00 AM


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