Talking Books give gift of reading

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Syun Kong Ching II first had trouble reading magazines in 1997.

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Ching holds a cartridge for the talking book machine. The center has been threatened with closure because of budget cuts. Ching said he would be able to download books if the center closed but that others wouldn't have such access.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Ching holds a cartridge for the talking book machine. The center has been threatened with closure because of budget cuts. Ching said he would be able to download books if the center closed but that others wouldn't have such access.

As his blindness from diabetic retinopathy progressed, his wife, Cindy, had to take over paying their bills for a while. By 2001, Ching's right eye was gone and his left eye could see two fingers only if they were within 12 inches.

Since then, he has read about 500 books. Many of them came from Augusta's Talking Book Center, which is on the third floor of the downtown library.

"Reading books is a big part of my life now," said Ching, a 68-year-old Martinez resident and retired Army signal corpsman. "I'm vision impaired, but my mind is still active. Since I can't watch television too much, I turned to books and found I like them even better."

Talking books are similar to books on tape but are designed for the visually impaired. A whole book resides within several Braille-covered tapes or on one digital cassette. The cassette player is filled with buttons of various sizes and shapes, sometimes coded with raised arrows or a circle-shaped depression.

"Just by touch you can learn them," Ching said.

His favorite books are suspense and historical fiction. He recently finished a Korean War book, The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam.

"I had a friend who was a POW," he said.

Last year, Augusta nearly lost its Talking Book Center. The Georgia Public Library Service planned to close as many as six of its 12 centers amid dropping state revenues. Augusta was on the list, but public outcry saved the center, at least for the time being.

Ching said if Augusta's center did close, it would be bad news. Limited vision in one eye means he can download library books from the Internet to cartridges using adaptive computer equipment. But many other people would not be able to, he said.

Thomson resident Henry Drake, who was born blind, said that if Augusta's center closed he could not get books from a computer.

"I'm just not a computer person. I don't know how to use one. I don't own one," he said.

The 59-year-old retired sheriff's office dispatcher has been using talking books for 30 to 40 years. He remembered what it was like before Augusta had its own center and he had to borrow books from Atlanta.

"It took a long time for them to get here. Sometimes three weeks. Sometimes a month. Or sometimes they might be out," Drake said. "I could call there to get a book, but I just hated the waiting."

Augusta's Talking Book Center librarians know Drake and other regular patrons personally. They call him when they spot a new book they think he would enjoy.

Drake likes mysteries, westerns and romance novels -- sometimes reading four to five a week. A recent favorite was Zane Grey's Valley of Wild Horses.

"If a book is good, it's hard to put it down, especially if the person reading it is good," he said. "I'll telephone old school friends and tell them about the books I'm reading."

Last year, Augusta's Talking Book Center checked out 18,000 books to its 1,150 patrons. The center serves nine counties and holds 30,000 books.

Augusta's talking book center will survive for now

State librarian Lamar Veatch told Augusta library directors at a Nov. 22 meeting that he no longer planned to close Augusta's Talking Book Center in 2011.

In a recent interview, he confirmed that decision, saying, "I don't expect in this initial round that Augusta's library will be affected."

If state budgets continue to fall, that decision could be reversed, Veatch said.

State funds for Talking Book Centers have dropped 30 percent in the past three years.

"In the visually impaired community, there's a lot of love and appreciation for this service." Veatch said. "They've been very concerned and very vocal about it. It's their lifeline, and we understand that. We want to be careful how we approach any fundamental changes."

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paperhearts
99
Points
paperhearts 01/10/11 - 10:03 am
0
0
Thank God this service will

Thank God this service will be staying around. The libraries in Georgia could do much different things to save money, for instance, not opening on Sundays.

afadel
474
Points
afadel 01/10/11 - 11:32 am
0
0
If the state stopped locking

If the state stopped locking up people for drug offenses and stopped chasing undocumented workers, maybe there'd be enough money for the talking book centers and the libraries staying open on Sundays.

In any case, this is a great story. Maybe we sighted people should all do more reading while we still enjoy our eyesight.

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