Friday, August 5, 2011

Making Sense: A Library for the Blind

by Drew Martin

Although most artists are "visual" artists, art is not made with eyes. Most artists are guided with their eyes but the process is usually performed with their hands; a tactile process. Oddly, the experience of the art by the audience is typically visual, sometimes audio, but rarely involving touch.

What a shame. We would experience so much more by running our hands over great sculptures and brushing our fingers across some canvases. The art world would be quite different if this were the case. It would probably be much more authentic and the untouchable prestige would vanish with human touch. Of course, there are preservation shortcomings to fondling art, but what a tease that is.

I was in Philadelphia yesterday for a photoshoot and was fortunate to start the day off in the same building as the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Part of the Free Library of Philadelphia, this library provides services for people with visual impairments and physical disabilities that would prevent someone from holding a book or turning pages. Available to check out in person or to receive in postage-free containers are audio books and magazines; braille books and magazines; described videos; and, large print books. The audio book stacks are pictured here.

Pennsylvania's two Regional Libraries have over 75,000 titles for circulation. The library includes a public Talking Book Center with audio navigated computers that can convert printed word in braille, large print, or synthesized speech. With the cooperation of authors and publishers, books and magazines are recorded on cassette and produced in braille.

The idea of the audio book actually came from Thomas Edison who recommended that his invention of the record be used for the blind to hear their books.

The interior, opposing walls of the entrance to the library are flanked by relief sculptures with braille titles and were designed to be touched as much as looked at. One of these is pictured above. A plaque next to them reads: Main Line Center for the Arts, Sculpture Classes for the Blind and Sighted.