NLS Director Jason Broughton and GLS director Kristin White at the American Library Association's national conference in June 2023.

NLS Director Jason Broughton and GLS director Kristin White at the American Library Association's national conference in June 2023.

By Kristin White, director of Georgia Library Service (GLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled

I was pleased to recently represent the Georgia Library Service (GLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled and our patrons at the 2023 American Library Association (ALA) annual conference in Chicago, where more than 15,000 information professionals gathered to learn from peers, discuss relevant legislation and policies that impact libraries, and to advance librarianship. 

As a member of the Advisory Team appointed to produce the next iteration of the Revised Standards and Guidelines of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a publication currently scheduled for release in 2024 by ALA Publishing, I spent much of my time in The Windy City in related meetings. 

The guidelines will serve as the nationwide blueprint for talking book libraries to use while maintaining the best service levels for their blind or otherwise print disabled patrons in the years to come, and we are very excited that Georgia was afforded the opportunity to have such prominent voices from administrative, staff, and user perspectives.

As the title states, the booklet receives periodic updates as warranted by changes in the NLS service model nationwide and in conjunction with the evolution of patron expectations and behavior.  One of the biggest alterations of this edition is to the title itself, as the word “handicapped” is being replaced with the term “disabled,” the former now being an outdated identifier that has fallen out of use and favor in recent years for various reasons.  

As a member of the Advisory Committee, I may suggest a guideline that places more emphasis on programming as a means to replicate the traditional library experience, which builds community through in person activities and affinity groups. I think this would benefit our GLS patrons, who are typically more isolated. Most of the talking book program is run remotely through traditional mail or online contact.

These guidelines will impact Georgia by allowing GLS to set responsible and measurable operational and fiscal goals to facilitate its continued evolution consistent with the national intent of the program.  Our hope is that local libraries will form stronger relationships with GLS staff, allowing us to identify and serve more patrons with our services.

New targets such as reduced response times, for example responding within two business days to all inquiries and GLS applications, will increase GLS staff workloads, but they will also place more emphasis on the need for a fully staffed and qualified work team.

The Revised Standards will offer further guidance and suggestions for network libraries on how to structurally function and amend processes under the mandates of their respective state oversight agencies.  For example, all states are required to have a policy-based program.  This means that there must be funding, resources, and staff appropriated to solely operate an NLS library on the state level in compliance with federal regulations to lend items distributed through NLS and the Library of Congress.  States are then free to add whatever other features they feel best serve their respective print-disabled communities.

A special thank you to Joseph McNeil, Sr., a valued Georgia patron and National President of the Blinded Veterans Association, for participating virtually in this very important process.  GLS Outreach Librarian Brandi Robertson and I both attended the Public Hearing for the Standards.

The most impactful part of my conference attendance came when I was able to spend a few moments with NLS Director Jason Broughton and Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden. Director Broughton reinforced to me the importance of us all working together to ensure “that all may read,” which is the slogan for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and guides our work at GLS as well. 

The GLS network cooperates with all of our state’s library systems to give Georgians ready access to materials from the free national library program administered by the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind & Print Disabled (NLS).