Augusta's talking book center could close under proposal



Local librarians fear a state plan to consolidate services for the disabled could hurt patrons’ access to materials.

Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services, a division of the Georgia Public Library Service, is considering closing Augusta’s talking book center and seven others in favor of an Atlanta customer call center. Talking book centers, also called libraries for accessible services in some areas, provide recorded audio literature for visually impaired, learning disabled or others with physical impairments that limit reading standard print materials.

Audrey Bell, the branch manager of the East Central Georgia Talking Book Center, said closing the Augusta location would mean less customer service and longer waits before disabled patrons receive materials. The Augusta location provides personalized service that would be unmatched by a call center, she said.

“We want (our patrons) to keep abreast with the same types of information our regular patrons do,” Bell said. “They shouldn’t be left out from having the opportunity to learn and read materials like our regular patrons.”

This isn’t the first time state proposals have threatened to shut Augusta’s talking book center. In 2010, public outcry and area legislators helped keep it open.

Pat Herndon, the director of Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services, said no decision about closing the centers has been made but a consolidated service could save money and provide better customer support.

Only four of Georgia’s nine talking book centers – called subregional centers – keep their own collections of digital books. People served by those centers also receive books by mail from a distribution center at the Georgia Archives in Morrow, Ga., which also mails books for the other five centers, Herndon said.

“Some customers do come into subregional libraries. It’s not a whole lot,” Herndon said.

Augusta’s talking book center serves more than 1,000 people, Bell said. It serves disabled in nine counties at 125 institutions, including Lynndale Inc., the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center blind rehabilitation center, the Augusta State Medical Prison and various assisted living facilities.

Bell said she knows her patrons well and recommends new books that fit their interests. Some listen to several books a week as an alternative to television and radio.

Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services has about 34,000 digital talking book titles in its collection and thousands more magazines, music materials and other items.

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