Saturday, May 10, 2008

Newspapers for the visually impaired may vanish soon!

A unique Barron County program that brings the simple joy of hometown news to the visually impaired is in danger of disappearing.

The Barron County recorded newspaper project started in 2001 as a way to help the visually impaired "read" their local newspaper. The program is operated by the Barron County Library Service and serves those who read the Barron News-Shield, The Rice Lake Chronotype and The Chetek Alert. Volunteers from around the county are recorded reading news stories from the paper, the tape from which is sent to the Barron County Library Service office, duplicated, and dispersed to those requesting copies of the audio paper.

Barron County Library Service Director Lori Bock explained she began looking at ways to get local news to the visually impaired after attending a conference in Madison. Speakers at the conference discussed methods of delivering a larger metro paper to individuals who were visually impaired-such as a telephone dial-up service-but there really was no method of bringing small town newspapers to those who struggle to see.

Bock then came up with the idea to record newspapers.It did not take long for the recording project to catch on, and soon, the library service and volunteers began preparing and sending audio versions of the local papers. When the program initially began, as many as 40 individuals participated in the program. The program was so successful, that the library service received an award from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind in 2003 for their service to the visually impaired. The project is also a unique service in Baron County.

Bock noted that while other counties have called to inquire about how Barron County set up the program, she is not aware of any that have actually instated it."It is a fun project," said Bock. "The people participating appreciate it, and the volunteers enjoy doing it. We just got a note back from one nursing home that said one gentleman has lost interest in everything else, but still enjoys listening to the newspaper."For Bock, the project also became personal, as her mother struggles with macular degeneration, a condition in which the center of the inner lining of the eye begins to waste away. As she began noticing the problems with her mother's sight, she also realized that her mother missed their local paper.

A similar story is told by Kathy Rudd, of Rice Lake, who typically records The Chetek Alert. She, too, began seeing the importance of the project as her mother's sight began to deteriorate. That personal connection to the project has made the importance of the project clear."Our eyes are valuable," said Rudd. "We take our sight for granted. It became clear that this is a special project. Hometown newspapers are special, and it would be a shame to know people could miss them."Rudd said she typically spends about two hours recording stories on the 90-minute tape she is given. Not every story is able to make the tape, but she highlights the news stories and reads as much of the first section of the paper as she can.

Some individuals often make special requests for stories they would like to hear, like the Sand Creek News and obituaries, and Rudd does her best to incorporate them on the tape. "I think it is a neat project," said Rudd. "It is fun to be involved because you know someone is getting the news in Chetek who may not normally be able to get it."Unfortunately, there is a good possibility in the near future that those participating in the program will no longer receive the recording, as the Barron County Library Service itself may soon no longer exist.

Bock foresees the dissolution of the Barron County Library Service in the next year or two, as several of the libraries in the network will be joining a larger library network based in Eau Claire. At one point, most of the libraries within Barron County were part of the countywide network. Within the last couple of years, both Rice Lake and Chetek libraries merged with MORE, a regional library system in Eau Claire.

In 2009, five of the libraries left in the bi-county Barron/Rusk system (Cameron, Bruce, Ladysmith, Cumberland, Barron) will also be merging with MORE to provide easier access to library collections. This will leave only the Turtle Lake Public Library left in the Barron County system.In addition to grants, the county libraries involved in the service helped fund the countywide organization provided.

With no libraries in the system, the funding for the service will be minimal, and will likely no longer exist."The project is a pretty big deal," said Bock. "Now it is on the verge of going away. We'd love to see it keep going, but I don't see the possibility of the county libraries funding it anymore."Because of the tenuous situation of the project, Bock explained those in the service have not actively been promoting it.

This could explain why the numbers of participants have decreased over the years. There are now only 12 individuals who receive taped versions of local papers-three for The Chetek Alert. Despite declining numbers, there is still hope the project will continue. The library service board met Thursday to discuss options for the recorded newspaper project.

According to board president Rhonda Tisdell, of Barronette, the board will be presenting their situation to several local organizations to see if any would be willing to take over funding the project."It is not a project that has to fall by the wayside," said Tisdell. "There are lots of other volunteer organizations that could continue the services, and hopefully we can find one."

For more information on the recorded newspaper project, contact the Barron County Library Service at 637-6870. The library service is located at the old courthouse in Barron.


Post a Comment

<< Home