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NLS: That All May Read

New Director of NLS Discusses Priorities

New NLS director Karen Keninger received a standing ovation when she shared her vision for the future of special-format library service with the nearly 200 representatives of the NLS network of cooperating libraries gathered for the biennial National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals.

Photo of NLS Director Karen Keninger and ALA President-elect Maureen Sullivan standing together.
NLS Director Karen Keninger (left) with ALA President-elect Maureen Sullivan. (Photo: Hilary B Photography)

The conference was held May 20-24, in Newport, R.I., with a theme of "Charting Our Course: Expanding Our Services."

"Our primary goal is to ensure that our patrons have the reading materials that they need to increase their quality of life. This is what we're all about," said Keninger, who took the helm of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on March 26.

She said the top five priorities sup­porting this goal are to "maintain the highest quality standards for all NLS products; enhance the reading experience for all NLS patrons by leveraging current and future technologies to improve the reading and delivery systems; expand the scope and quantity of titles available in alternative formats; take a leading role in positioning braille as a viable, practical and achievable literacy medium for all blind Americans; and increase NLS readership by 20 percent over the next five years."

The librarians were welcomed to Rhode Island by Howard Boksenbaum, chief library officer for the state, and Andrew Eagan, regional librarian. Eagan shared some of the town's history and information about attractions. Boksenbaum told the librarians, "Your service occupies a critical niche in Rhode Island. We are delighted that you chose Newport as the place to hash out your future."

Conference participants also heard from American Library Association President-elect Maureen Sullivan.

"Libraries must be at the table," she said. "Make sure that your leaders have the information they need to make decisions about library service."

Sullivan encouraged librarians to develop strategic plans and create out­reach partnerships.

"We must tell our stories in relevant ways," she said.

Oceanographer Amy Bower of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who lost her sight early in her career, told the librarians that the service is important to her.

Head and shoulders photos of NLS patrons Amy Bower and Rachael Scdoris.
Amy Bower, left, and Rachael Scdoris. (Scdoris photo courtesy of Robert Aglie Photography)

"BARD [NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download online system] is a great service that I use all the time," she said.

Sled-dog racer Rachael Scdoris, who is legally blind, also explained that she learned to appreciate talking books while in school.

The gathering received updates from NLS staff, who informed the audience that audio magazines will soon be issued on digital cartridges; that BARD is being enhanced to accommodate audio and braille music scores and instructional materials, foreign-language materials, and locally produced books; and about properly coding locally produced materials entered into the NLS Comprehensive Mailing List System (CMLS) database for statistical purposes.