As a blind person, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to exist in this era, where for the first time in history I can partake in printed, or recorded, words as they are revealed to the public. Books, maybe not necessarily the opiate of the masses, but the opiate of me. The only thing that makes it possible for me to slink along through this crazy life and the work needed to thrive in it.
I remember when I was first able to consume books on my own, be they in Braille or on tape. The specialized programs in our school subscribed us to our North Carolina branch of the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS), and we would receive a well-used copy of some hopefully interesting title that we needed to send back after consumption. Discovery was kind of fun though as often we had no idea what they might push to us, but in many cases we didn’t enjoy it either. And we didn’t have a whole lot of choice, aside from giant Book catalogs that would be distributed on a bimonthly basis and from which you could order, assuming your library’s branch even had it on hand.
The Braille books were bulky and often stretched across several volumes. The tapes, recorded for play in a “long-play cassette player especially designed to allow them to be slowed (or sped up, I’m not the only blind person who had tons of fun turning everyone into chipmunks) would often get lost or meet a bad end being “eaten” by the player. It was fine though, the library would usually take it on good faith if you reported a lost or destroyed item and allow you to continue . receiving new titles.
Even with that generous system, most of the time the best we could hope for was to be reading a book nearly a year after the hype had died down. But more commonly, we only had access to at most 5% of readable material, and that was better for us here in the US than in much of the world, a difference I hope is going away but which I fear still persists to some extent.
Anyhow, imagine my, our, joy when the Internet came into existence. Of course the NLS has digitized its collection, and really nowadays they get a lot of support from commercial outfits as well, which is nice because it definitely grants us more access than we’ve ever had. Then in the textual arena, there are services like Bookshare, which even further broaden our ability to grab great titles and take them in via Braille display.
On the larger stage, in the instances when commercial titles are not available via NLS, I had often purchased them from Audible. I suppose I like Audible well enough, but A it has become an Amazon company (something of a “big guy” in town, and B, I had often wondered how I might support independent booksellers. I believe these community stores do just that, enhance and keep our communities thriving. I met Rachel Simon, the wonderful author of Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus With My Sister, at Charlotte’s Parkroad books, for instance.
So, I grasped at the first opportunity I saw to merge both of those worlds, a site called Libro.FM which has Audible-like functionality (they’ve just introduced a $14.99 membership credits model), but they allow the Indies to take a cut from each purchase. You the consumer are allowed to decide which store you wish to support, and so I chose Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books because we also have a thriving writing scene in this area. Simon pegged her earlier titles while residing in the region, and my current favorite, Carla Buckley, is still putting out the good stuff while residing here as well. I want both my writer friends and the stores that in many respects support the work they do to continue to survive, even as the world turns into one big chain.
And on top of that, Libro has great customer service. Via Twitter, I pointed out, when downloading the iPhone app and taking in my first title, a few unlabeled buttons when using VoiceOver. They began working on it, and emailed me recently asking me to go back and take a look. I hadn’t had a problem with it even then, but it is still great when developers care enough to take the time to look into and fix an issue.
So I suppose that, for the time being at least, I am going to move away from the larger entity and stick with these folks for a while. If you would like a way to help the locals out in this digital age, I would invite you to do the same.